Dragging a knife through the plastic wrap spilled the bloody marinade into the awaiting barrel. Still dripping wet with fresh blood the roast beef slammed against the meat slicer, and with the guard thrown down to press the beefy slab near to the rapidly rotating blade, the methodical process of slicing .50 of a pound began.
Sumner’s mouth watered – it was his favorite of the deli meats, the rarest of the roast beefs, and yet he was condemned to stare longingly at each tender slice as it collapsed unceremoniously onto the damp plastic sheet below.
A subtle maneuver secured a tear of the meat before tossing it up upon the scale.
.53, almost perfect. He wrapped it up in a deli bag and tossed it on the counter without a word, all the while chewing the succulent meat in the corner of his mouth, backed turned towards the front of the store where the night managers roamed, hawk like eyes readied to catch any employee in violation of one of the many ludicrous rules and regulations.
Granpa John, a 59 year old veteran of the deli trade, whose long chiseled face seemed set in stone, called out from behind the fish case at the other side of the deli. “8:15, forty-five minutes till closing, kid.”
Sumner: “Great.” His expression was hollow to match the emptiness in his voice.
Granpda John: “Someplace yah gotta be?”
Granpda John: “Got a date tonight, kid?”
Sumner: “No, I had a job.” Idly he rubbed his wrists, a grimace tracing over his young face.
Granpa John: “Had? That don’t sound right, kid. You get a job to do, you do it.” Removing his soiled latex gloves and tossing them back into the waste bin, the old man began with two long, slow strides over the slick floor towards Sumner.
Sumner: “I’m late, I should a gotten out a here half an hour ago.”
Granpa John: “What’s with the hands, kid, too many lonely nights?”
Sumner glanced awkwardly at the old man and then back towards his wrists, when it dawned on him he had been rubbing them the whole while. “That might be hurtin’ your wrists old man, but not mine.”
Granpa John: “Ha! Not for twenty years. Too much herb and too many long shifts to pay any mind to what’s down below.”
Sumner: “They got pills for that now, you know.”
Granpa John: “Go on, get out ah’ here, punk.” With a mock scowl and a wrinkled wink of the eye, the old man turned his back on his younger co-worker and hummed a melancholy tune beneath his breath.
The clock ticked by, leaving Granpa John to close down the deli while Sumner’s hurried steps carried him up the stairs and towards the employee back room. A twist of his young, sinewy arms relieved his torso of the long white deli coat – a snap of the wrist tossing it into a clothes bin.
Sumner punched out his time card, pulled the collar straight on his black button down shirt, then headed back down the stairs and out into the night.
It was raining hard and already dark – the cold wind whistling audibly on the lonely city streets. Red lights flashed, cars honked and turned corners, splashing water against the side of graffitied brick buildings, though few pedestrians could be seen about the sidewalks traveling by foot.
A man stepped out from a dark recess and stepped silently behind Sumner, matching him stride for stride. The two continued walking in unison without word – the breath from their lips turning into white wisps of frost.
Sumner: “Do you have it?” He shivered as he spoke, quick steps pattering against the wet sidewalk – crossing streets without halting, confident the screeching breaks of the cars would keep his legs from being swept out from beneath, spilling him through the glass windshield of some asshole’s car.
Man walking behind Sumner: “Yah I got it, was wondering when the fuck you were gonna show up.”
Stepping under a canopy shielding them from the rain, Sumner’s feet kept moving as his neck turned and his eyes fell on the dark face of a friend. “Give it to me then, Scott.”
Scott: “There’s no time to warm up. This shit’s important, man.” Slinging a black backpack from off his shoulder he pulled forth from its vinyl depths an old keyboard – dusty and worn. He handed it to Sumner in mid stride.
Sumner: “There’s time.”
The two entered into a coffee shop, desk top computer’s with large rectangular flat screens lining the walls. Quiet techno music played in the background while small groups of teenagers and young adults gathered quietly in their own private corners, huddled before their computers.
In the far right corner of the cafe a tall, broad shouldered man motioned the two over, a blue cooler lying by his feet. He swiveled his chair out from in front of the computer as Sumner approached, still walking ahead of Scott.
Sumner: “I need a coke.”
The big man, Ricky, flipped open the top of the cooler and reached in, taking hold of an icy soft drink and tossing it nonchalantly over his shoulder towards the chair in front of the computer.
Sumner caught the can with a practiced hand and popped the top, guzzling down a few gulps before parting his lips to speak. “Someone fill me in, I’ve been at work all day.”
Scott pulled up to Sumner’s left – Ricky to his right.
Ricky: “2,500’s the biggest bet yet, but it’s on Rich. You’re down on odds, man. He’s beaten up everyone, bad. He’s good, no doubt – but you’re better.”
Sumner: “I don’t need a fucking pep talk, give me the stats.” – spoke while transferring the cords, setting up his own familiar keyboard before shaking his wrists, loosening them.
Scott: “I was sent some shit from some hacker friends, they’ll be watching tonight – a lot of people will be. They say he floats between 180-250, bursts are off the charts.”
Sumner: “Tap in, you tell me tonight what he’s really goin’ at, aight? I heard of another fella goin’ 350, I believe it when I see it.”
Ricky: “8:40, it’s time, bro.”
Computer monitor brightens… a chat screen loading –
Here in the room you see: T2_Tyrant, The Judge.
T2_Tyrant: Ladies, gentleman… the boy arrives. Shall we begin?
Coffee shop –
Scott: “That’s him… That’s Rich.”
Sumner: “No shit.”
Ricky pushes back, talking low on his cell phone… his voice inaudible to the two others.
Scott: “You’re it, man… All the rest went down, let’s do this.”
Computer screen –
Gladius: Let me warm, I just got off work.
T2_Tyrant: Pussy, no excuses. It ends now.
Gladius: Judge is ready?
The Judge: Yes, begin.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s feet rush over the ground to the left of Gladius.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s hands bawl into fists, feet rushing around Gladius to his back.
Gladius: Turns to face Tyrant, backing up two steps over the floro.
Gladius: Unsheaths balde curves it outward stepping back.
T2_Tyrant: Smirks, striding around Gladius’s right side and spinning around, hooking his right foot up past his shoulder towards his unguarded head.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s foot slams through Gladius’s head, bruising past the flesh into the bone.
Gladius: ‘s head cranes away from the fot body swying swiftyly.
The Judge: 1-0, in favor of Rich.
Gladius: TIME OUT requested.
T2_Tyrant: Pussy, you’re no better than the rest. Reputation’s exaggerated, you’re no legend.
The Judge: TIME OUT accepted, leaving one remaining for duration of fight. 3 Minutes, begins now.
Coffee shop –
Scott’s eyes blink twice, opening wide. “He’s fast, man.”
Sumner: “FUCK! That’s unreal.”
Ricky’s phone clicks, the antenna pressed in with the flat of his palm. “You’re backtracking with the delete, and you’re typoin’ like a rookie.”
Sumner: “I’m not warm, this isn’t my computer, and this isn’t my fucking chair! I’m not comfortable, this sucks.”
Ricky: “Finish the coke and relax, and don’t fucking whine. This asshole Rich has gotta go down, and you’re it, ok? I got off the phone with Steve, he just had his boy hack into the Judge’s data – those lines were between 215 and 300… but the connect, it was written at a burst of 400.”
Sumner: “That can’t be right, I’m going less than 200 right now, no where fucking near 200, I’m stuttering on the keys! I don’t have a chance if that’s right.”
Ricky: “It’s the judge’s record, ok? It’s not a guess; it’s a fact, deal with it.”
Silence ensued while Sumner gulped down the rest of the coke and danced his fingers lightly against the keys, focusing his eyes on the screen while his legs dangled restlessly against the floor.
Computer screen –
The Judge: The fight may commence, the TIME OUT has expired.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s hand swings out towards Gladius’s unsuspecting jaw.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s hand cracks into Gladius’s jaw, bone snapping against his rugged knuckles.
Gladius: ‘s steps carry hmi awy frm hand at his jaw.
Gladius: LKJDLKFDLKJFD FUCK.
The Judge: 2-0 in favor of Rich. Continue.
Gladius: Runs towards Tyrant’s right flank, flashing balde out @ his ankle.
T2_Tyrant: Dances astray from cut -@- haha – his ankle, back fisting to counter at Gladius’s nose.
Gladius: ‘s blade slices through Tyrant’s anle bne, sevrinefg the corded mucle.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s fist smashes full into Gladius’s nose, blood issuing forth between his tightly closed fingers.
The Judge: 3-0 in favor of Rich. Gladius, your typos are an insult to this profession; I am forcing your second TIME OUT. It is suggested you warm your fingers and finish this fight honorably.
Coffee shop –
Sumner: “This is embarrassing… who’s watching this shit again?”
Scott: “Everyone, man… The whole T2 and Role-Play circuit, anyone who’s anyone, and anyone who’s online.”
Ricky: “Yah, I told you yesterday about this bro, it’s big. That Rich, he’s not even a Role-Player, he’ll give us all a bad name if he takes your title, take away all the prestige you’ve earned for the community.”
Sumner: “Fuck the community, I look like shit right now! This is pathetic, this is the worst I’ve ever done. I’m locking up.”
Ricky: “NO FUCKING excuses, bro.” – Cell phone rings, Ricky pushes back and answers with a muffled… ‘Hello?’
Sumner: “I hate this kid, but I can’t do this right now… he’s too fast, and I’m slow as fuck right now.”
Scott: “You have to, you can do better than this, just relax.”
Ricky: “Shut up… both of you. Sumner, it’s for you.” He held out the cell phone, a blank stare across his eyes – as if in disbelief.
Sumner: “Who’s this?” – Talking on the phone.
…Voice. “It’s Alex.”
Sumner: “No… shit? What’s up? We’ve never talked on the phone before.”
Alex: “500 dollars, that’s what is up, Sumner. I bet on you, you gonna make me look like an ass?”
Sumner: “You’re the legend, why don’t you take him?”
Alex: “I’m not shit anymore, it’s been years, and I’m not about to embarrass myself to save your ass. I trained you, it’s your turn.”
Sumner: “I don’t have it today, I’m frozen and locked up.”
Alex: “Don’t think I can relate? Rich is just another asshole with fast fingers, but he’s not a role-player, and he doesn’t give a damn about T2 or the community other than to show his shit off. Beat him.”
Sumner: “I can’t FUCKING beat him, you just saw what happened to me, a massacre, it was pathetic.”
Alex: “Damn right that was pathetic. I’ve seen rookies do better. Hell, I’m ashamed that I had anything to do with you right now, but fact is I got 500 dollars on the line, and hell, yah, I still give a damn about the community and what this fight means for it.”
Sumner: “It’s not like I don’t want to win…”
Alex: “I don’t even care what you want or what you think you can do… People don’t like Rich, they don’t want to like him – and they won’t like him or follow him if you beat him. Just once… beat him once, and you’ll never have to prove yourself against him again. No one’s going to follow a beaten tyrant, no matter what they say.”
Sumner: “How? What do I do? Even at my best, I’m not as fast as him…”
Alex: “It’s all in the fingers.”
Sumner: “Heh, yah, and?”
Alex: “I have no more advice, no more tips, I’ve given you everything I know about T2, now use it.”
Sumner. “Ok…” – Voice withdrawn, eyes unfocused upon the screen.
Alex: “Hey Sumner?”
Alex: “It’s on you now, bro… This is your moment. Do this, and you’re a legend, and no one will be able to take that from you.”
Sumner: “I’m going to try.”
Alex: “Don’t try, Sumner… Just win.”
Sumner: “Hey Alex?”
Alex: “It’s on you, bro. Peace.”
Scott and Ricky exchanged glances, both visibly nervous…
Sumner’s eyes blinked, focusing on the screen… deep breaths accompanying his thoughts… advice once given… ‘Nice isn’t going to win you the fight. Be arrogant, be an asshole… shake hands after the match, not before… You either know you’re the best, or you lose.’
Sumner: “Ok, I’m ready.” Of all things, a grin etched itself across his lips, a look of devious anticipation glinting in his eyes.
Computer screen –
The Judge: Gladius’s last TIME OUT has expired. The fight may once again commence.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s foot hooks into a sweep out towards Gladius’s cheek bone.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s foot cracks into Gladius’s face, splintering his bones, bruising his flesh.
The Judge: 4-0 in favor of Tyrant. One more strike in his favor, and the championship changes hands.
Gladius: ‘s eyes stare confidently ahead, piercing Tyrant’s… a look of grim determination spreading across his chiseled, bloodied visage.
Gladius: Now it’s fair… 4-0… you may have a chance yet, rookie.
T2_Tyrant: Rookie? You’re pathetic, you look like an immature against me, and they said you were the best – lol. It is over, I won, and we both know it.
Gladius: You won’t touch me again… You won’t stand a chance.
T2_Tyrant: – lol – don’t fuck with me, child, I’ve just schooled you in front of everyone. Role-Play’s a joke, you’re a joke, the communities a joke, and it’s over. Here…
T2_Tyrant: Judge, lets make this interesting… I hereby forfeit 3 points of health, giving this rookie 3 strikes in his own favor.
The Judge: The score is 4-3 in favor of Tyrant.
Gladius: I warned you, and you mock me? You don’t have a chance now…
T2_Tyrant: Smirks, removing a knife from his belt in which to slice his opponents throat.
T2_Tyrant: I just want your embarrassment complete, and my triumph supreme.
Gladius: Let’s play.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s knife slashes out towards Gladius’s throat to end this petty game.
Gladius: ‘s blade rises, parrying the knife – eyes staring full ahead into Tyrant’s.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s knife pulls back than darts towards Gladius’s gut to impale him.
Gladius: ‘s blade drops to parry and sweep away Tyrant’s jab.
T2_Tyrant: Juts his knife hilt up towards Gladius’s nose, pulling off his jab.
Gladius: Sways back than steps to Tyrant’s left flank, spiraling into a twist, blade whirling around to slice Tyrant at either side.
T2_Tyrant: Smirks, rushing towards Gladius’s left side, jabbing his knife with an immense thrust of strength towards his opponents throat.
Gladius: ‘s blade slices clear through Tyrant’s ribcage, clearing the sinewy flesh and tearing into a rib.
The Judge: 4-4, next strike in favor of either opponent decides the fate of the championship.
T2_Tyrant: What the FUCK? Where?
Gladius: Winks… stepping back out of range and whispering, “Look up.”
T2_Tyrant: Bullshit, nice trick, bitch… now lets heat it up.
Gladius: Walks backwards away from Tyrant, sword held aloft before his body.
T2_Tyrant: Rushes forwards towards Gladius’s right, elbows in tight to his body.
T2_Tyrant: Steps to Gladius’s left, across his opponent’s body, dragging a fist towards his temple.
Gladius: Continues to walk back from Tyrant, holding his blade out before him.
T2_Tyrant: Fist slams into Gladius’s temple, crushing the nerves in his brain, killing him.
T2_Tyrant: Spins around Gladius to his other side, hooking his fist into an upper cut towards his jugular.
Gladius: Steps away, walking backwards, holding his sword up before him.
T2_Tyrant: Halts his attack than races towards Gladius closing the distance.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s hand races forth to meet Gladius’s nose, to shove it through into his brain.
Gladius: Leans back from the fist, sword thrust forth towards Tyrant’s gut to impale him.
T2_Tyrant: ‘s hand bashes full into the nose of Gladius, blood spraying out, face destroyed, cartilage broken.
Gladius: ‘s sword impales Tyrant, blood and excrement from enemies bowels flowing freely. Victory.
The Judge: 5-4 in favor of Sumner. The championship does not change hands, the fight is ended.
Gladius: Been fun, have a good night… oh, and yah… you do in fact, suck.
T2_Tyrant: I’m faster than you, pussy. Lets do this again, NOW.
Gladius: I just don’t see that happening : ) I don’t give second chances to second rate fighters. G’night!
Coffee shop –
Scott: “… Yah….”
Ricky: “I think I’m in love?”
Sumner: “Scott, role a blunt… Ricky, grab me another coke.”
Sumner leaned back in his swivel chair, kicking his feet up upon the desk and laying his hands idly in his lap. He stared blankly at the screen, breathing deeply, perspiration visible against his dark brow.
Scott: “Man, was that all a show? Were you playing with us?”
Pause…. Sumner grinned and shook his head.
Sumner: “No, he was faster than me the whole time… Hell, he was better than me.”
Ricky: “Fuck him, he lost, and it’s over… he’s done. Let’s roll fellas.”
The three rose up from their chairs and left into the cold night’s rain…
They walked home in silence, both friends knowing well enough to let Sumner enjoy the adrenaline and warmth pumping through his veins… Victory was a drug – much like percecet, weed and alcohol – but that could wait till they got home.
© 2002 -Alex M Dubinsky