The glass is breaking.
That’s not the surprising thing; the surprising thing is that it didn’t shatter when he threw me against it. Shouldn’t come as a shock. This place, they went through a few front windows the first year they were open and decided it was more cost-effective to lay out the extra cash for the safety glass. Save them from having to replace it every time there’s a brawl in here. Which is pretty regular I’d imagine. Any case, I’m not bitching. Wasn’t for the guy who had the bright idea, I’d be on the sidewalk right now, my good leather jacket cut to ribbons and my face sliced up in all kinds of new and interesting ways. But now it’s breaking, it is most definitely breaking. I’m sure about that because my face is jammed up against it. The big question for me is whether this is the kind of safety glass that bursts into thousands of tiny pebbles when it breaks or the kind that turns into shards. Pebbles would be fine. Shards, not so much. The window creaks. Tiny fissures appear in front of my eyes.
OK, time to stop worrying about the glass, time to start worrying about getting this guy off of me. I can’t expect any help from the bartenders or the crowd, not after they watched him pound on the bouncer with that pool cue. And I don’t see any helpful officers of the law rolling up outside at this point. Not that I have any intention of being here when the cops show up. So, I guess it’s just me and him. That’s OK, I can go this one alone. Not like it’s new to me or anything. I just wish he really was on PCP; if it was just PCP he’d be pretty easy to deal with. But this? This is gonna take grace and style, maybe even a little tact.
He shoves my face harder into the big front window. People out on the sidewalk flinch as they see my features squashed yet flatter against the glass. The glass creaks again. The fissures grow another millimeter. He’s still screaming, babbling insanity at the top of his lungs, howling so loud I can barely hear Boxcar Willie on the jukebox:
You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older, and deeper in debt.
Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth.
He’s enraged that my face won’t just explode through the damn glass the way he wants it to. He rears back, and before he can slam my face forward, I’ve slipped to my right, spun, twisted my arm free of his grasp, winced as a clump of hair is torn from the back of my scalp, planted my right foot in the hollow behind his right knee, hammered my elbow into the back of his neck and sent him face first through the window in my place. The sidewalk audience scatters as he hits the pavement. I step through the dagger-edged hole he left behind. Shards it is.
He was spazzing the second he came out of the bathroom.
Before that, I hadn’t even noticed him. Why should I? Not like I’m working; not like there’s any reason I should be doing anything but paying attention to the booze in my glass, the cigarette in my mouth, the pool game in front of me and the girl by my side. Especially the girl. Girl like this, most everyone in the place is paying attention to her. Want to be invisible? Hang out with a girl like Evie. All that red hair, the body that not only won’t quit but works weekends and holidays, too. That smile. She’s the kind of girl guys like to look at, but most aren’t sure how to go about approaching her. Too bad for them. They miss out on the best part, they miss out on how cool she is, how funny, how sharp, how down-to-earth. Anyway, a girl like Evie on your arm and you turn into a shadow, just the lucky fuck taking up space next to the best view in the place.
So a night like this, when it’s so cold out Evie is wearing her leather pants and that tight old thermal top with the Jack Daniel’s label silk-screened across the front, a night like this where she’s glued to my hip and every guy in the place wishes he was me, is it any surprise I didn’t smell him the moment he came through the door?
Most nights I would have picked up his scent right off. Couldn’t miss it. After all, he smells just like me, only different. But what with the Early Times I’m pouring down my throat and the Luckys I’m sucking on and Evie rubbing up against me, I just can’t be bothered. Still, he couldn’t have been in here all that long. Sooner or later I would have smelled him no matter how distracted I was. It wouldn’t have meant trouble necessarily; we would have eyeballed each other a bit, sniffed each other’s asses like a couple of big dogs, but there wouldn’t have been any trouble, not in here, not where everyone can see us. That shit just doesn’t happen. As it was, I was lining up a neat little combo that was gonna let me run out the rest of the table and he came out of the john and started spazzing out.
This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill junkie-who-just-shot-up-in-the-can stumbling around. He came out of there like the Tasmanian Devil: spinning, arms flailing, kicking anything that came in range, sending tables and people flying; a full on spaz. A space quickly opened up around him while he whirled and gibbered and foamed at the mouth. The bouncer, a nice enough guy goes by Gears, came over and tried a little sweet talk.
—OK, man, settle down, settle down. Take it easy. Got yourself a dose of some bad shit, but we’re gonna take care of you. Got some 911 on the way, gonna get you to an emergency room and get that shit out your system. Just take it easy.
Moved in slowly, arms spread wide, talking soft. Might as well been trying to soothe a rabid dog. The guy stopped spinning long enough to jump at Gears and swing his arm like a club. Guy was freaky fast. Gears got lucky when he fell on his ass out of the way. Guy’s arm hit the backside of a bench made out of two-by-fours and a couple of them cracked. Then he went back to spinning. By this time folks are starting to clear out, and I’m starting to pay attention. Gears gets back on his feet, muttering something about fucking PCP, grabs himself one of the cracked and twisted house cues from the rack and goes after the guy. But I’ve taken a good whiff by this point and I know the guy ain’t on PCP. Gears would be lucky if that’s all it was. I mean, I don’t know what he’s on, but I know he doesn’t need it; he’s dangerous as hell to start with.
Gears waits ’til the guy has spun his back to him, and brings the cue down on top of his head. It makes a nice noise, but before Gears can get too proud of himself or maybe think about bringing the cue back up for another swing, the guy has turned around, snatched the cue away, kicked Gears’s legs out from under him and gotten busy finding out how hard it is to break a pool cue by pounding it on someone’s face. That’s when I figured I should do something. Not that Gears is so big a friend. I barely know him except to call him by name when I come in the place, but The Spaz is out of control, causing the kind of scene that’s bad for business. If I don’t deal with him, the cops will. That will get very ugly very fast. Nothing causes a scene like when cops start putting bullets in a guy and the guy refuses to go down. Sure, Gears and the law and the press may just chalk it up to a PCP freakout, but there are other people who will hear about it. And some of those people will want to check it out. And I don’t want those people around. Not down here. Not in my neighborhood. So I jump on the guy’s back. Figure I’ll get him to the floor, put a sleeper hold on him and drag him out of here. Make up some story for the crowd about how I know him and I’ll take care of it. Get him out before the cops come; get him someplace private and get rid of him before he can make another scene like this one. That’s the thing to do. Except he shrugs me right off his back, picks me up off the floor and throws me at the window. And when I bounce off the glass instead of going through it the way he wanted me to, he grabs me by the hair and tries to shove my face through the glass. Lucky for me, strong and fast as he is right now, he’s a lousy fighter.
Once he’s on the sidewalk I handle it pretty much like I wanted to inside. Knees in the middle of his back, pin him to the scummy pavement, arm around his windpipe and cut off the O2 until he goes asleep. He does a fair amount of thrashing around, and I have to hold on good and tight to keep from getting bucked clear, but once I’m locked on to him I’m not going anywhere. When he’s nice and sleepy I toss him over my shoulder and point at one of the bartenders who’s come out to watch how the story ends.
—Get me a cab, will ya?
—Ambulance is on its way.
—Let ’em deal with Gears. This guy, I know him. I’m gonna take him back to his halfway house. See if I can keep him out of the shit.
—What about the cops? What about the window?
—Hey, come on. I got the guy out of the place. Give me a fucking break.
She flags a cab.
The cabbie’s none too happy about me piling in with blood-drippy guy, but he sees I’m in no mood for debate and just gives me a dirty rag to put over The Spaz’s face. Before we pull away, Evie runs up and passes my pack of smokes and my Zippo through the window.
—Want me to come?
—Nah, I got it covered.
—Meet you back at your place?
—Yeah. Maybe a half hour at the most. You gonna be OK?
—Right. Sorry ’bout this.
—’S OK. Nobody can say you don’t know how to show a girl a good time, Joe.
The Spaz tries to come to in the cab. I pinch his esophagus and he goes back under before he can cause me any more trouble. I have the cabbie take me down to the Baruch housing project just below Houston. It’s a couple blocks outside what I’d usually call safe turf, but no one really has a claim on it, so it seems like a good place for an impromptu dump. I manhandle The Spaz up the steps to the pedestrian bridge that spans the FDR to the East River Park. It’s nearly two in the morning on a Tuesday. Cars whiz by below, but the lights on the park playing fields were shut off hours ago. My eyes penetrate that darkness just fine. Too cold for any homeless people to be camping out. I do see what looks like a couple junkies sitting on a bench at the far end of the park, but they’re facing the river. I pause at the top of the concrete stairs that lead down to the park.
The Spaz is still alive, alive and reeking of blood. I think about that blood; how I’d like to tap a couple pints of it and stick them in my fridge at home to replenish my rapidly shrinking supply. But his blood won’t do me any good, won’t do anything but make me hellishly sick and kill me. I know that because of what I smelled back at Doc Holiday’s; the smell of the Vyrus, the same smell I carry with me. Nonetheless, I’m just hard up enough to give him another good sniff. Hell, maybe I was wrong, maybe it was some other Vampyre’s scent I picked up in there, maybe this guy really is just whacked on PCP. I inhale. No, no such luck. He’s another sad fuck like me. But there is something about him, something about his scent that’s a little off. Must be whatever he was taking in the bathroom. No surprise I guess. Whatever he’s on would have to be some mean shit not to be neutralized by the Vyrus the moment it entered his bloodstream. Sure would like to know what it was. Be nice to try something like that sometime, something for a distraction. Christ, I drank over a fifth of bourbon tonight and it barely gave me a buzz. The Spaz stirs in my arms. Time to deal with the problem at hand.
From the Trade Paperback edition.