“You know, I had the world at my feet once”.
The big man spoke in a southern accent and slouched in the worn theatre chair opposite Ryan Cawdor and J.B. Dix. He was just over the three hundred and fifty-pound mark, balding and had sweat running profusely from his forehead at his slightest movement. The clothing he wore was the most unusual that Ryan had ever seen in his years travelling the post apocalyptic USA; a white, two-part suit that glittered reflections of wall mounted candles in sequin, studded patterns. Unusually - for the Deathlands - he wore large gold rings on his swollen fingers and an expensive looking medallion hung around his neck.
“People used to travel for miles to hear me sing”, he continued. “I could name my price and where and when I worked – only the best venues you understand – and certainly nothing like this”. He waved with his arm, indicating the seedy, grimy, average looking shit hole that passed as a bar in most baron run villes.
Most of the wallpaper had peeled away, leaving the brick and plaster showing underneath and nearly all of the coloured glass windows in the domed ceiling were either broken or missing. Worn burgundy curtains hung at the sides of the stage a few yards from their table, complimented by a dull, gold back drop.
“And the women ? Well, let’s just say I had more than my fair share, though there was only one really special one and I married her. For the life of me however, I cannot remember her name”.
He was about to continue, when one of the whore - come waitresses – came over and put a sandwich in front of the ageing performer. The bread was heavily laden with grease from the fried meat inside, but by the enthusiastic way that he gobbled the first mouthful, cholesterol was along way from the man’s mind. Dix put the distraction to his advantage, leaning back and pulling his fedora down over his wire rimmed glasses. Ryan knew he wouldn’t go to sleep – or even close his eyes - in a place like this. You’d have to have a death wish to do that and J.B. wasn’t the type.
“So what happened”, asked Cawdor running a hand over his scared and stubble ridden cheek. He realised that he would probably regret asking the question, before he finished.
“Well, man”, chomp, chomp, chomp, “that’s the mystery”. He put the food back down on the plate and wiped his hands on his already stained trousers. “I woke up one night needing to use the john, sat down and then I remember feeling mightily cold. I still feel it now. But, after that it’s all a bit of a blank really. Next thing I know I was wandering the high way, before being picked up by some armed gang of thugs. Now I’ve got some guy – calls himself Baron Carlos Roach - lending me out now and then to do my thing, for a handful of credits. I’ve gotta room and regular meals, but”, he looked cautiously over to two armed men drinking at the bar. They wore the usual red scarves that Ryan knew Roach used for the identity of his Sec-Force. “Do you think I should say something and try a negotiate a better deal ?”
The only kind of negotiating that the local Baron would do on the subject would more than likely just involve the end of a blaster being waved in his direction. “Nah, drop it, unless you can come back from the dead somehow !”
The singer went to respond, but, seemed lost for words and went back to eating. He finished the burger with a further four, huge bites, and then washed it down with some of the home-made brew that the bar owner had nick-named ‘Nuke’ for its potency.
Ryan and J.B. had ordered water, but had decided not to risk it when the cloudy liquid had arrived.
The obese man let out a loud belch, then suddenly went as white as a sheet, as a pain in his chest contorted his face. He gripped the side of the table and fought for composure, waiting for the discomfort to slowly subside.
“You fit to fight ?” enquired Ryan.
“You OK ?”
“Yeah, sure, happens all the time”.
The girl that had brought the food reappeared at the table and whispered into the entertainer’s ear, whilst indicating with her finger a wiry little man climbing the stairs on the left of the stage.
“Sure Ma’am. Anything for a pretty face.
Something was really annoying Cawdor about the man and it hadn’t taken him very long to figure out what it was. Although the guy was completely rad crazy, it wasn’t his insane mumbling. Every sentence however, seemed to be punctuated by a speech impediment that sounded to Ryan like ‘Uhn Huhn’, but he let it ride.
The small, thin man walked to the centre of the stage, raised his arms in the air and called for quiet in the hall. An old generator sputtered to life and hummed somewhere in the distance and lights flooded the platform. There was a reel to reel tape recorder on a battered table behind him and he turned, flicked it on and strings from some long dead orchestra filled the room. The bar owner returned his attention to his audience, a microphone now in his hands.
Gentleman, tonight it gives me the greatest honour to introduce to you a living
legend. Here at the Emporium for one night only - with
the kindest of thanks to our own Baron Roach. The one. The only. You thought he
had died over a century ago, but now he’s making a victorious comeback. The
greatest voice history. The King. The century hoping, Mr Elvis Presley”.
and loud cheers filled the room as a spotlight fell on the chair near Cawdor.
his hands on the arm rests, the twentieth century legend tried to pull himself
up and out of the chair, but found that his ample cheeks were somewhat lodged.
His face went red and glistened with the effort, before he turned to Ryan.
fella, can I get some help here ?”
a rip in the side of the cushioning, Ryan thrust one of his boots into the hole
and pushed down with his powerful legs. There was an audible sound as the vacuum
was released and the singer lurched forward. He made the stairs, climbed
strenuously and made it to the centre of the stage, his bulk casting large
patches of the front rows into shadow. He took the microphone.
thank you. It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight at …” - he looked
to the owner who mouthed the name – “Eddie’s East Coast Emporium”.
and whistles again.
first number tonight is one I think you’ll all remember. It goes a something
nudged J.B. “Hey Dix, you’re missing the show”. Knowing the armorer like
he did, he figured the little man would be more at home at a firearms auction
than here, but you never knew.
fat entertainer crooned in a voice that had obviously seen better years, but the
congregation eagerly devoured every syllable. From somewhere behind Cawdor, a
pair of soiled women’s under garments flew onto the stage, though the songster
avoided them like he would have done a ‘stickie’. The way he moved – combined with the name the announcer had used –
reminded Ryan of an old film he’d seen in the past. But that guy had died way
before Sky Dark – or so the box holding the vid had said. There was no
possible way it could be the same guy. Could it ? In Deathland years, he would
have been over five life-times old by now.
had just started his second song – something about being on your own tonight -
when Ryan decided he’d had enough and informed his companion that he was off
to the can. J.B. would automatically keep an eye on the door, covering his back
and stopping any undesirable from sneaking up on his friend.
room he stepped into was disgusting and pretty much how he imagined it would be.
Excrement was smudged on the walls and the cubicle doors and partitions had been
removed. Graffiti about the local Baron’s hospitality was heavily evident, as
were drawings of bugs, with the words ‘C is for Cock’ scribbled underneath.
had been in the toilet for less than a minute, before screams and shouting
seeped under the entrance. At first he assumed it was the end of the song, but
the eerie silence that followed put Ryan on his guard. He drew his Sig Saur 226
– it feeling comfortable in his palm - and moved cautiously back to the
was more shouting and then a sudden knock inches from his face, followed by a
? It’s me J.B. It’s OK”.
opened the door a fraction and stared with his sole blue eye at his friend.
“What’s up ?”
for yourself !”
taller man looked over his shoulder, in the direction insinuated by J.B’s
thumb. Chaos had taken over the stage.
mountainous pile of flesh, dressed in white, lay still on the raised, wooden
floor, a half a dozen people kneeling or standing over him. The bar owner
–Eddie – with a worried look on his face was on his knees thumping the dying
man’s chest, trying in vane to force blood through fat, thickened arteries.
His expression turned more to horror as he saw the Baron’s two Sec-men join
him on the stage. Losing or stealing anything from Roach would drop him in
really deep rad dust, but the death of his prize possession ? He re-doubled his
crowd meanwhile was beginning to get restless and had started chanting for their
credits back. Some had drawn their handguns and the situation looked like it had
the potential to get nasty.
think it’s time to hit the road”, said Ryan, without taking his eyes off the
scene playing out in front of him.
Huhn”, said the armorer sarcastically and nodded.
words “Is there a Healer in the house” filtered out above the hubbub as they
reached the foyer, and then the first gun-shot rang out. They upped their pace
and hurried through the swing doors into the stillness of the night, leaving the
turmoil behind and moving swiftly on to where the relative safety of Trader’s
convoy was waiting.
they turned around the corner, they almost bumped into a red scarf party of
Sec-men - who from the direction they were heading - were escorting Baron Carlos
Roach to the Emporium. Ryan recognised the powerful little man in the midst of
his guards. Dreck, was he in for a surprise ! He didn’t know it yet, but
without the technology of the previous century, Elvis had finally left the
above story is dedicated to Sue, who put up with me in the car whilst writing it
! It is also for all those idiots that stand behind the goal with me at Marlow
F.C. every week in the cold, rain, snow and every other element that our post
nuke world has to throw at us.