The Guns…They’ve Stopped

Or, more to the point, the trash talk. And the commentary. Hmmm… it seems this little enterprise is already proving to be more difficult than some folks remembered. It’s sad, really, how the memory is the first thing to go. Well, that’s all right. I’m a day ahead so far, and hope to be three days ahead by the end of the weekend. As for the rest of the guys…YOOO HOOOO? ARE YOU OUT THERE? WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO WAIT HERE FOR YOU, OR CAN I JUST KEEP GOING?

– Snark Finn –

NOTE: If you are not up to date on the story, the first two novels have been run in their entirety at revolutionsf.com.
The Transformation of Lawrence Croft: http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=1827
Chance of a Lifetime: http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction2/condorks2/condorks2_00.html

One in a Million – Chapter 4

Don’t Call Him “Jerry” On Game Night

Stevie Fleckner walked with grim resolve up San Pablo Avenue, having left the North El Cerrito BART station a few minutes before. It had been one of those days. And a Wednesday, no less! There was something about getting bad news on New Comic Day that made you question your place in the world.

Stevie’s particular affliction came in the form of an email sent out by Linda Grogan, a woman for whom Stevie had carried a bonfire’s worth of torches over the past few years. They had met during a freshman orientation party at Berkeley. Stevie was an R.A. and thus partially responsible for the party’s success. Linda was a freshman, there on a fine arts scholarship, and she forever damaged his eyesight for other women.

That night, he showed Linda where the food table was, acted as if art history were the most fascinating subject on the face of the Earth, and gallantly offered to show her around Berkeley so that she could get her bearings. This included a trip to Telegraph Street, and that’s where Stevie lost Linda, metaphorically speaking. The neo-hippies, activists, and flake-heads were much more to Linda’s thinking of what the college experience should contain. Stevie was an accounting major with a minor in computer programming. It was never going to happen.

But Linda was not dumb, nor was she particularly cruel. She could see Stevie trying his hardest, and so while she set firm boundaries for him, like, “Stevie, you’re a really nice guy, and the first person who was friendly to me. But I will never see you in a romantic light. If you’re okay with that, and respect my wishes, I would still like for us to be friends.”

Of course, Stevie agreed, because that’s what guys like Stevie do. They bide their time, engage in passive-aggressive presenting behavior, such as showing up during finals week with a home-cooked meal, knowing full well that none of their skills and talents will be acknowledged…until the asshole she’s dating breaks her heart, and in a moment of desperate weakness, she flings herself on the man who, she realizes through her tears, had been right there all along. This was Stevie’s plan, and it was rock solid in its construction.

The problem was Linda. She didn’t date thick-necked jocks who just liked her for the way she looked in a pair of Wranglers, or creepy assholes from the business school looking for arm candy. No, she dated other art students, and an actor, and this one guy who worked at the Pound O’ Ground coffee shop named “Starson,” which begged the question from Stevie: what the hell kind of name is “Starson,” anyway? To make matters worse, Linda didn’t have any epic, pitched break up scenes. They just agree to stop seeing one another. Some of them, like “Starson,” stuck around and became part of Linda’s growing group of friends and acquaintances. Others just melted away, never to be heard from again. No drama. No fuss. Not even some residual stalking. Linda’s mellow vibe and spiteful determination to get along with her ex-boyfriends was putting a serious dent in Stevie’s plans.

And now, the latest email. Sent to “all of her BiFFs.” The first date had gone great! They really connected! He’s so funny and sweet!

Burt Vaughn. One of the most talked-about, notorious geeks in the whole Bay Area. Friends with D.J. McGuiness, Fred Terkington, and Larry Croft. Yes, that Larry Croft. The same guy who got permanently banned from MagicCon over a year ago, and who nearly cost Stevie his position in the MagicCon staff hierarchy. Granted, Vaughn wasn’t nearly so infamous as Larry, nor as well-positioned as McGuiness, who managed one of the top three comic shops in the Bay Area. Aside from whatever it was they did that landed them that sweet stack of vintage, pornographic, and highly collectible LegendMaster game modules, no one had anything bad to say about Terkington and Vaughn. They were juniors at U.C. Berkeley. Terkington was an R/T/F major. And Vaughn was…what? Something to do with computers. Anyway. It didn’t matter, not to Stevie. He could read between the lines of Linda’s latest email. This one was different. Burt Vaughn was officially competition. And if there was one thing Stevie Fleckner shied away from, it was competition. Aside from online gaming, of course.

Which was, in fact, his ultimate destination. On Wednesdays, after a trip to the comic book store, Stevie hopped the BART going north, up into El Cerrito, for some killer pad thai and a night of blowing up people online, thanks to his little gaming team. Tonight’s game was Call of Duty 3. And as full of nerd-rage as he was, tonight it was going to double as therapy, too.

***

Jerry Markham surveyed the Wednesday night set-up: his living room in his El Cerrito apartment was completely dominated by four flatscreen monitors, mounted one to a side, onto a home-made pillar that ran from floor to ceiling. Underneath each screen was an economy-sized student’s desk which held an Xbox 360, controllers, and other accoutrements necessary to a night of power gaming, such as a cup holder for a 20 ounce soda. Four reclining office chairs faced the screens, completing the battle station. It was an extravagance, Jerry knew, but a necessary one. His new apartment in El Cerrito was half the size of his old digs in Arizona, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Instead of being the guy with the sweet tabletop set-up in his master bedroom, he was the guy with the must-experience online gaming set-up in his living room.

And it was because of this set up that Jerry was able to have a small circle of friends again. After his arrest in last year chasing after the porno modules that Larry stole, practically from his backyard, his parents pulled him back to the East Bay, where they could keep an eye on him. After his community service was up, of course.

The thoughts made Jerry’s stomach churn and so he pushed them out of his mind. But the fact remained: after what happened at MagicCon, thanks to Larry Croft, and what happened in Tempe, Arizona, thanks to Larry Croft, he was damaged goods in the Geek Nation. No longer known as Jerry “God” Markham, master of role-playing and story-teller extraordinaire, he was now referred to as “that guy who peed his pants at MagicCon” or “that guy who got arrested for treasure hunting on private property.” Both statements, while containing a sliver of truth, were nonetheless blown entirely out of context and beside the point, anyway: Larry Croft was responsible for his fall from grace. Larry set him up, not once, but twice. And now that Jerry was back in town, Larry was going to get what was coming to him. Somehow. Some way.

It was a dark thought, but it actually cheered Jerry up in a way that most people would agree is not healthy. As Jerry threw the requisite bags of chips onto the table, his cell rang. He looked at who was called, and then answered it.

“Sebastian.”

“Hey Jer.”

“Don’t tell me: you’re bailing.”

“Ah, it’s not my fault,” Sebastian said. “I gotta stay late. That truck finally showed up.” Sebastian worked at the Tech Depot in El Cerrito, which is coincidentally where he and Jerry met when Jerry needed a part-time job upon moving back to town. Their friendship and mutual faceless, corporate employer was responsible for eighty percent of the hardware in Jerry’s living room. To call such hardware “stolen” was an insult to actual thieves. Rather, the battle station was assembled out of dented and dinged, reclaimed, reconditioned, or dead merchandise, mostly manipulated in the byzantine Tech Warehouse computer system by Jerry and cheerfully carried out the back door by Sebastian.

This behavior was rationalized by Jerry as all part of his new criminalized persona. His criminal trespass charge that wouldn’t go away. Especially since he found ways to bring it up into any given conversation, usually dropped with a darkened expression and what he hoped was an air of danger.

“Anything good?”

“Nope,” said Sebastian. “It’s all Toshiba.”

“Well, come over later, then,” Jerry said.

“Dude, I’ve been here all day…well, if I’m not too tired. Maybe.”

“All right,” said Jerry. “Hey, have you talked to Phong?”

“Naw, he’s off today, too. I thought he was with your lazy ass.”

“I’ll call him,” Jerry said.

“Later, Dude,” said Sebastian and hung up.

One man down. This did not bode well. Jerry dialed his co-worker at the “Dr. Computer” station at Tech Warehouse. Like Jerry, Phong was an IT major, except that he was attending Berkeley instead of City College, like Jerry now was. How the mighty have fallen, Jerry thought as he scrolled through his contacts and hit Phong’s name.

Phong’s phone rang. He answered it in Vietnamese.

“Phong, it’s Jer.”

“Hey Jer. It’s Phong.”

“I know, man. Hey, are you coming tonight? Wednesday?”

“No,” said Phong. Jerry could almost hear him scowling. “I got to work at restaurant. Brother’s sick.”

“Aw, man,” said Jerry. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“Haven’t had a chance. Too busy,” he replied.

“You work ‘til close?”

“Yeah. You want me to bring you leftovers?”

“Hey, yeah. Do that. We’ll be here. Spring rolls, if you still have any. And peanut sauce.”
“Okay, Jer. Sorry.” Phong hung up. He never said goodbye.

Jerry pocketed his phone and sighed. Dammit. Two people does not a Call of Duty squad make. Looks like tonight it’ll be just him and Stevie Fleckner. The only connected member of the local geek scene who still acknowledged his friendship. Only Fleckner understood Jerry’s pain. He had plenty of his own scars, himself. Unfortunately, their shared misery at their out of control lives was pretty much the only thing they had in common, besides a deep love for complicated rules systems and GameScience polyhedral dice.

The doorbell rang. In the absence of abject carnage and with two players M.I.A. Jerry idly wondered what they’d have to talk about tonight.

 

The Author

Mark Finn

Mark Finn

Mark Finn is an award-winning author, playwright and essayist who is active in Robert E Howard studies. His biography, Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E Howard was nominated for a World Fantasy award, and will be re-released in an updated second printing later this month. His comic books SCOUTS! Premeires in March from Ape Entertainment.

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1 Comment

  1. The Great NateO
    January 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm — Reply

    Ok 4 down, now I was guessing I should read the first 2 in this series, but it looks like I’m up to speed, Mark great job of bringing it all together. Love to see the two sides of the story developing.

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