Chapter 20 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At 1:20 AM, a subway train screeched to a halt in the musty, dimly-lit tunnel of the Flaxelton subway station. The doors slid open. As Bert and Dave started to get into one car, they noticed a kid exit the next car down. He looked to be about thirteen years old, and was carrying a gift-wrapped atomic bomb.

"Look," said Dave.

Bert growled. The two guys stepped back away from the subway train, as it closed its doors and rumbled off into the darkness.

Bert and Dave walked briskly toward the kid, who was staggering slowly towards the "UP" staircase. The weight of the bomb was clearly a difficult burden for him to bear. Dave and Bert cornered him.

"Hey kid," hissed Bert, "Where'd you get that?"

"I found it on the subway."

"It happens to be ours," said Dave calmly.

"Get lost!" said the kid. "Finder's Keepers." He continued toward the stairs, trying to stagger a little bit faster.

"Challenge," said Dave, quietly, but with great authority. The kid froze. The word "challenge," spoken in this context, had evolved into a shorthand expression meaning, roughly, "I challenge you to a game of Icehouse, with high stakes on the line."

The kid turned slowly around. "You guys got a set?"

Bert nodded.

"This thing as the stakes if I lose?"

Bert and Dave both nodded.

"What if I win?"

Dave reached into his vest pocket, removed some money, and held it up for the kid to see. Three crisp bills, neatly folded, high denominations.

"Two against one ain't a fair game," said the kid.

"You against me," said Dave.

Bert removed two sets of pyramids from the leather pouch he carried and set them out on the grimy floor of the subway platform. The kid set the bomb down on the floor behind him, and he and Dave knelt down to play. A subway train roared into the station. As it rumbled out again a minute later, the game began.

Dave swung into action. His hand moved with amazing speed, tossing pyramids out onto the floor in seemingly random yet carefully planned patterns. The kid made a few meager plays, but the game was over just seconds after it had begun. The kid was Iced, and was too stunned to speak. It was a classic case of what can happen when professionals take advantage of gullible amateurs.

"Sorry, kid," said Dave, as he picked up the bomb and walked off toward the tracks. As Bert gathered up the pieces, another train screeched into the station, and Dave and Bert quickly boarded. Long after the sound of the subway had faded into the distance, the kid continued to sit on the platform, in silent amazement at the speed of his defeat.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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