“What is your DEAL?”
If he hears the words come out of Franky’s mouth, he doesn’t indicate it. He just looks at the hole in his puffy jacket where the bullet grazed him.
“Damn. I love this this jacket.”
Flash back to six months ago at that bullshit junkyard he calls his workshop. Not a bad spread, he’s got something resembling a shed, but it extends about four stories up.
He’s working and his eyes have that glazed look they get when he’s playing with tools. He has a pneuma-claw on his left arm and he’s twisting a sheet of metal into something wicked, probably not for recreational use. His radio makes a clicking sound and he’s back in the real world—focused, agitated. If he knew his mother she’d have said he was at home when he’s got his hands busy. When they’re not he’s gonna be looking for something to do—that’s why it’s better to keep him busy.
“Yeah that’s my fuckin’ name I’m engaged what do you want?”
“I’m calling because— What the hell’s your problem?”
“I’m engaged. Talk.”
Jethro puts the radio down, powers up his sculpting arm and he’s back at it.
“You don’t know me. But there are some people who know you, and they don’t care what you’re doing, they’re coming. Now. And if you want to live longer than the next two minutes you’d better pick that radio BACK UP and SHUT UP.”
“You can see me?”
“What didn’t you understand about shut up?”
Jethro freezes and reaches across his shoulder to power down his left arm, and with a hiss it’s inert. He slides out of it, unlatching the harness around his waist and it CLANKS down on the ground. The radio’s making some buzzing some something whatever Jethro’s in it now and he’s seeing the waves oscillating in front of him and he’s following the lines they leave in the air. He follows them about 1000 yards down the dirt road and they’re bouncing like there’s a whole lot of business coming from out over that way.
“Aww, damn this ain’t my day.”
“Get out of there. NOW.”
His brain’s moving fast, calculating.
“Only thirty of ‘em.”
“Are you LISTENING?”
“Nah, I’m gonna wait it out—“
Jethro clicks off the radio, and he mumbles.
“…see what happens.”
He’s all action now. He grabs a well-worn jacket, off a nail in the wall and slides it over him while he’s running. Goose-down, it’s really comfortable, well insulated, but breathes in the summer. And when was the last time anyone saw a goose?
He’s flying now, he runs up the circle stairway and he’s going all the way up. Jethro storms up past his Sleeping-Room, up to the Eating-Room, and he’s where he’s going—the Fuckyou-Room. He slams down the heavy latch, and he’s ripping at the ignitions to four generators he’s got set just for this moment. They sputter to life, one at a time, and the room lights up bright enough that everybody sees it: The chopper gang with their rusted, broke-down bikes they’ve come to “request” Jethro tune up, Franky from her vantage some half-a mile the other way. She mutters under her breath.
A tremor rocks the junk-tower, and Jethro looks down the road at the massive explosion he’s triggered. Mutilated bodies and bikes litter the ground, and he tracks the shockwaves as they travel back to him. About a dozen bikers farther back seem to have missed the brunt of the blast and charge forward. They’re freaked the hell out but this group’s more disciplined than most. Bad news.
From the top of the tower Jethro chews the side of his cheek.
“Well sheeit. Ok.”
He lifts up a rigged up box under the console with a clump of wires spilling out of it. He pops it open and there’s a yellow smiley button he’s waiting to press. Almost—aaaand:
The earth collapses underneath the wheels of those bikers. There goes another six, hopefully those bikes might be good for salvage still. Gotta focus six to go.
The gang is wising up now—best not to stay on the road. Jethro’s out of road traps anyway so he’s weighing his options. Pretty much bark and pray. He flips on a megaphone.
“ALL RIGHT Y’ALL MOTHERFUCKERS YOU’D BEST BE ON YOUR WAY IF YA DON’T WANNA END UP LIKE ALL THOSE GUYS IN PIECES DOWN THE ROAD. LAST WARNING.”
A big guy, really big—leader big, right as he pulls a sawed-off shotgun out of his pack, booms back.
“You’re dead now! We’re comin’ up there!
“DAMN AREN’T YA’LL SOME BITCHES.”
He flips off the megaphone, well aware that he’s running out of options. He slams down his 9 mm onto the console, checks his belt to feel the weight of his hunting knife. Six on one. Bad. He picks up the radio.
“All right beautiful stranger you wanted to keep me alive here’s your chance. Didn’t think these guys would stick around.”
There are three popping sounds, almost like whispers, and there are three crumpled dudes on the ground. The big guy and the last two lackeys are at the foot of the tower, and they duck inside as two more shots ring off of the scrap.
“You’re on your own now, there’s nothing I can do for you. If you survive this you’ll hear from me. Out.”
Jethro sits on the console chair and swivels back and forth as he feels them pounding up the spiral staircase. Three on one is still bad. Better than six.
Then an idea. A bad idea, but things being as they are—he looks at his chugging generators as their exhaust follows out the ventilation tubing, belching out black smog. He mutters,
“Damn this is gonna suck.”
And he’s slicing into the tubing with his knife, and the room’s filling up with smoke. He looks up to the removable panel above him onto the roof and the grunts outside indicate they’re now working on that latch. It’s getting real smoky and Jethro’s starting to choke but he’s gonna get through the rest of that tubing.
And he does. The door groans, he sees a pry-bar start to peek into the threshold and he knows time’s up. He climbs up on his chair, opens the panel, hefts himself up. He’s outside, and with his last move before the door goes he kicks the chair away, and he’s on his belly with his pistol looking over the console-room out of a crack in the panel.
The door crashes open, no one inside or out can see shit but everyone starts shooting, the crucial factor being that only Jethro knows the general location of his enemy. He empties the magazine, reloads, empties it again, reloads, empties it again. No more bullets.
And it’s still, everything’s silent. He waits a little while.
“Anyone alive in there?”
In response there’s a loud shotgun blast in Jethro’s general direction now, so he ducks, shuts the panel tight and starts climbing down the scrap tower. If he hit that guy it’s not likely he can follow. Here’s hoping. He finds some odd handholds, and cuts himself pretty deep on some jagged steel, but he makes it to the bottom. Without hesitating he immediately starts to run back up the stairs, he hears some hacking and coughing from the Fuckyou-Room and the second and third levels are starting to fill up with smoke. He gets up to the top floor, and he hears the source of the coughing. The big dude, he’s moaning and coughing, asking for help. Jethro darts to the door, grabs the handle, and slams it shut.
“Time to FUMIGATE THIS BITCH. BITCH.”
Jethro takes off his puffy jacket and pushes it into the crack under the door. There’s another shotgun blast but that door’s pretty thick. Another trigger pull, but only a CLICK. The biker sputters between coughs.
“Hell no! You die in there instead.”
And this goes on for a little while as the big ass biker asphyxiates in the Fuckyou-room. And then he does. And then the only sound is the generators, chugging away.
Later, once the generators burn through all that fuel and the tower airs out enough to be survivable Jethro gets his radio.
“You still there mystery bitch?”
No response. Then—
“You’re on call. I call, you come running.”
“Now why would I do that?”
“I’m going to pay you, and pretty well for a scrap salvager like yourself, every month whether I use you or not. I could always use a techie that can handle himself. More importantly—you know someone I need to talk to. And if you say no…well…you’re not going to see me coming.”
A bullet screams through the scrap wall about six inches from Jethro’s eyeball. A moment.
“Sure thing. Now stop shooting up my place you crazy bitch.”
And we’re back to the present. Franky’s staring at him.
“I’ll repeat—WHAT IS YOUR DEAL?”
Jethro looks at her hard, and for an instant there’s some fire in there. Then—
“Just the way I do things.”