There are no days. There are no weeks. There are no years.
The asset wakes up. The body shakes. An x-ray. An operation. A reboot. An upgrade.
It wakes up. It is compliant. It turns up its face for the tube. It holds out its arm for the shots. A handler, a mission. The chair.
It wakes up. The body burns. The tube slides in. The stomach fills. Shots.
The handler, a mission. A woman, a garrote. Cold water on the body, cold water in the body. The guard, the chair, the ice.
It wakes up. Hygiene procedure. The nails are trimmed. The face is shaved.
The asset presses its face into the touch.
Hey, I think it likes you –
It wakes up. The scrape down the throat. They give it four shots. A gun, three men, three shots. A bullet in its side. They cut it open, they sew it up. Shots. A burn in the vein. A cut in the mouth. Cold.
It wakes up. The language is different. The faces are different. It turns up its face for the tube. It holds out its arm for the shots. It burns the house to the ground. The children burn in the house. It spreads its legs for the tube. It steps back into the ice.
It wakes up.
It stands. It staggers. The handler helps it sit.
The handler's arm is in a sling. An Incident has occurred.
“There, sweetheart, was that so hard?”
It turns up its face for the tube. It holds out its arm for the shots. It feels its head roll back, slack.
“You have a mission.”
There are no days, there are no weeks, there are –
The asset is extracted. It is returned to base. It holds out its arm for the shots.
The handler removes its clothing. “Hands on the wall.”
Hygiene procedure. It waits for the tube. The water is cold.
“Get rid of it over the drain.”
It obeys. The handler says “Fucking disgusting.” He says “Hands on the wall.”
The handler uses the hose to clean the floor and the body. The water is strong enough to force the body against the cement.
“Turn. Back to the wall.”
It obeys. The water hits the asset in the face.
“Three steps forward. Kneel.”
It obeys. The handler unzips his trousers, pulls out his genitals. “Suck it.”
This is not procedure. The asset stares. The handler slaps its face. “What are you, shy? Open your mouth.”
The asset obeys. The handler puts his penis into the asset's mouth. This is not procedure. This is not part of the programming. The handler grabs its hair. “The wetter you get it the less it will hurt.”
Pain is irrelevant. The handler will not incapacitate the asset. The asset is to avoid damage to its body and weaponry if at all possible. It lets its mouth go slack. It drools.
It awaits orders.
"Shit, do I have to teach you everything?"
It obeys. It obeys. It –
“Stand, turn. Hands to the wall.”
The asset calculates the probable damage. A tear to the sphincter. Abrasions to the interior of the rectum. Minor. Irrelevant. The blood loss will be minimal.
“So tight,” the handler says, and his body shudders.
The shots the mission the hose the water the –
It wakes up.
It is on a rooftop. It has no memory of its passage here. This is not an extraction point. The handler is not here to retrieve the asset.
The handler is not here.
The asset's body relaxes. It lies very still on the rooftop.
The asset does not want to move, but it also does not want to be found. It moves from this roof to another. It knows that it needs to acquire new clothing. The handler will recognize the asset's clothing. The handler must be evaded.
It waits on the rooftop until nightfall. When it is dark the asset drops into an alley and watches the people who pass. When a man of the correct dimensions comes near the asset seizes him, pulls him into the alley, and presses a knife to his throat. “Quiet,” it says.
The man is quiet. The asset says “Take off your clothes.”
The man whimpers. The asset frowns. The asset says “I will not hurt you. I will not make you suck it. I will not fuck you. Take off your clothes.”
The man takes off his clothes. The asset takes off its clothes. The man's eyes do not leave the metal arm. The asset puts on the man's clothes. It says “You may go.” Then it climbs back onto the roof.
The asset wears blue jeans, a t-shirt, a denim jacket. The asset wears one glove. The asset walks around the city. It feels as if it remembers something. It doesn't know what it remembers. Perhaps it remembers everything.
After two days the insects crawling over the asset's body become intolerable. The asset uses its metal arm to attempt to remove the insects from the meat arm. The results are not satisfactory.
“What the fuck are you doing, man?” says a pile of refuse.
The asset is not disturbed. The asset knows that the words it hears often have no identifiable source. (Let's hear it for Captain America!) It understands that it has been experiencing auditory and tactile hallucinations for the past two days. It has, however, not yet been spoken to by a pile of refuse. The refuse does not seem to be a threat.
“I am removing the insects.” The asset is not to speak to humans when it is not necessary for the completion of its missions, but there are no procedures delineating protocol for when the asset is addressed by a large pile of dirty clothing and garbage bags.
The refuse sits up. It is, upon further inspection, a human being. The asset does not know whether or not to find this surprising.
“Shit, I've been there, man, but you're gonna fuck yourself up. Wait, here, hold up.” The human being extracts a bottle from one of the garbage bags. It hands the bottle to the asset. “Go ahead. It's just Thunderbird. Might even you out a little.”
The asset does not consume alcohol. The asset twists open the bottle, puts its mouth to the rim, tilts it back, swallows. It tastes like what the technicians use to clean the asset's arm. The asset closes the bottle and returns it to the refuse-human. “Thank you,” it says.
“No problem, man.”
The asset stares at the refuse-human. The refuse-human says “So when did you get back?”
It woke up on the roof three days earlier. It may have been there longer. “Recently.”
“Yeah? You've got the stare, at least. Your hair's long as hell, though.”
“The hair was cut according to specifications.”
“Must have been some freaky-ass specifications.”
The asset does not understand this statement. The refuse-man says “That's one hell of a hand.”
“Arm.” Accuracy is preferable.
The asset removes its jacket.
“Damn. I've never seen anything like that before.”
“It is an experimental weapons project.”
“What?” The refuse-man stares at the arm. “You've got a fucking red star on you, man.” He continues to stare. “You a POW?”
The asset doesn't understand.
“When did you get captured?”
The asset says “A long time ago.”
The refuse-human says “Fuck, that's rough, man.” He says “I'm George. What's your name?”
Asset is not a name. The asset does not have a name. The asset only knows one name.
He says “Steve.”
Steve watches George prepare to give himself a shot.
“What is it?”
“Smack,” George says. “It's smack, man, you know that. I mean, you were really hurting yesterday. Man, they really fucked your brain up when you were over there, huh? I never met a junkie who could forget what smack is.”
“Yes,” Steve says. He understands. It has been several days since he was last given a shot. He has been experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.
He was really hurting yesterday.
George does not seem to be hurting now. George lies back, smiling.
Steve says “Where does it come from?”
George knows “a guy.” A guy works out of the park. Steve waits for a guy in a tree, then drops down onto a guy. A guy attempts to resist. A guy is not capable of resisting. Steve pats him down and finds and removes the smack. He also finds and removes two hundred and seventy-three US dollars, and a barely-used semi-automatic.
Steve goes to the place he has found, a small room above an empty garage. The windows are boarded over: the position is highly defensible. He has observed George preparing his shot. He follows the procedure. He inserts the needle. He depresses the plunger.
And oh, yes –
Yes, he is warm. Yes, he is alive. Yes. There is a man. He is small and blond and his name is Bucky. Yes? Yes, there is a small apartment, and the eyes are blue and the voice is too deep for the body. There are hands on his body. Home, and Bucky and yes –
He walks around. He walks around in the sun and he looks at the leaves in the park. He lies under a tree in the park. He watches the birds. He thinks they are beautiful.
He wakes up. A shot. Pleasure. He walks around. He eats food. He drinks water. The stomach is empty. A shot. He hears music. He climbs in through the window and up above the stage. There is music everywhere in the dark room. He feels the music. He watches the dancing. Pleasure.
He goes to a diner. He sits in a booth. He looks at a menu.
The waitress says "What can I getcha?"
The asset says "I'll have a pastrami on rye and a cuppa cawfee."
The asset has apparently been programmed with an archaic regional American dialect which may be relevant to this mission.
You got a problem with how I talk, pal?
The sandwich is the best thing that Steve has ever tasted. The cuppa cawfee is always refilled before it is emptied. Steve drinks five cups of cawfee. He orders an extra sandwich for George.
He vomits most of the food up later. He doesn't mind.
Pain is inevitable.
He wakes up. There is no money. George is hungry. There is no smack. He walks around. He watches. He sees men in the alleyways. He sees exchanges of services for capital. He is no longer living in a socialist paradise (heh, heh). He does not want to kill civilians and loot their bodies. He will have to exchange services for capital.
Soldier, you have a mission.
He sees his reflection in a window.
Jesus, Mary and fuckin' Joseph.
His appearance is mission incompatible.
I'll say, champ.
The mirror is hung low on the wall so that Steve can see himself in it, but it means that Bucky has to practically bend his spine in half when he wants to fix his hair. Steve's watching him from his bed, laughing at him, the little jerk. He's been sick for the past week, but now he's sitting up and being a smartass, which means he's feeling like himself again.
"You're vainer than any dame I ever saw, Buck. I'll bet we could buy a house with the money you spend on Brylcreem."
Christ, this skinny little asshole with his goddamn smile. Buck thinks they could have him selling Pepsodent with that smile, even if no one else ever seems to notice. Bucky gives him a big corny wink in the mirror, just to keep that grin going. "Don't you go hurting my feelings, Steve. I'm a real sensitive guy. Maybe I'll run off to California and never come back."
"I'll just follow the greasy streak right to you. You think you can lose me that easily? If you ran to the moon you'd find me waiting in a crater."
The asset emerges from the scene (memory?) with moisture on his face. This is not mission-relevant. The scene, though uncomfortable, contained mission-relevant information. The asset should be clean-shaven and freshly bathed when engaging in operations involving contact with civilians.
And maybe think about combing your goddamn hair.
Steve (Stevie?) enters an apartment via the fire escape. The building security is lax. There are no bars on the window. There is a potted plant on the windowsill.
He enters the washroom. He undresses. He turns on the shower. He washes his body with a bar of white soap for 120 seconds.
There is a bottle in the shower. The bottle says "Gee, your hair smells terrific."
He washes his hair with the contents of the bottle for 40 seconds. He rinses his hair and body for 20 seconds.
He emerges from the shower. He dries himself with a towel. On the sink there is a can labeled "Barbasol."
Thank fuckin' God.
He shaves with the Barbasol and a safety razor, then combs his hair.
His hair smells terrific.
He starts to put his clothes back on. His clothes do not smell terrific.
He enters the bedroom. He opens the closet. The man who lives in the apartment and uses the Barbasol is thinner than the asset. The white t-shirt stretches across his chest. The denim trousers squeeze the buttocks, perhaps because essential material has been wasted around the ankles.
The asset suspects that this will not impede his mission performance.
He puts his denim jacket back on, grabs his other pair of jeans, and exits the apartment through the window. He leaves ten dollars on the windowsill beneath the potted plant (rosemary). It only seems polite.
He wakes up. The insects have returned. He goes to Christopher Street.
Soldier, you have a mission.
“How much?” says the man.
Steve says “Twenty bucks.”
It's a very straightforward mission. The asset has been trained for this type of engagement. The man runs gentle fingers over the seam of his arm. “What happened to you?”
Steve says “I don't know.”
You don't want to know, buddy.
The man says “Do you know how gorgeous you are, sweetheart?”
"How do I look, Steve?"
He turns around to let Steve get an eyeful of his new suit. Steve laughs and punches him in the arm. "I'm not gonna tell you."
"Aw, c'mon, Stevie. Is it alright? I'm counting on your judgment, here. I need to look good to meet the future Mrs. J. B. Barnes, don't I?"
"There isn't going to be a future Mrs. J. B. Barnes. What kind of girl would be dumb enough to marry you?" He dodges Bucky's little smack to his shoulder and grins. "You look like Cary Grant in that suit."
"Not like Gary Cooper?"
Buck's a big Gary Cooper fan, has been since he was a kid. He tells people that it's because Cooper's a real man and plays real men, none of this swell Fred Astaire stuff, but really it's because Buck saw The Wolf Song when he was twelve years old, and seeing Gary Cooper stripped naked and washing up in a river was just about the best and worst thing that ever happened to him.
Bucky's got a few publicity shots of Jean Harlow pinned up above his bed, and he jerks off to them sometimes, honest he does: he's no fairy. He likes the ladies, always has.
He keeps the shots of Gary Cooper hidden under his mattress.
"Nope. You're not that handsome," Steve says. Then something in his face changes, and he steps in closer. He presses his thumb to Bucky's chin."You and Cary Grant. You've got the same cleft in your chins. Right here." He rubs it a little, then moves his thumb to swipe over Bucky's lower lip.
Bucky swallows. "Steve. What are you doing?"
Steve blushes, but doesn't look away. "If you want to – you know. Like when we were kids. We could do that again some time, if you want."
Steve says “Yes.”
He likes being called sweetheart, instead of soldier or asset or that creepy fucking thing. He likes being touched. He likes being paid. He likes getting more smack.
He gives himself a shot.
He walks around. He finds a club. He climbs the back wall and enters through the second story. He's high, he's so fucking high. He listens to the music. He loves listening to music. He loves the park. He loves climbing in through the window. He thinks that somebody loves him.
There are no days, there are no weeks, who gives a fuck?
He wakes up, he shoots up. He goes and gets some food (ham and cheese and a cuppa cawfee). He goes to Christopher Street. He brings some cash back for George. He shoots up. He walks around, he goes to shows. He kisses a man at the back of a bar. He lets the man touch his body, touch his metal arm.
“Were you in 'Nam, honey?” the man says.
Steve says “I was everywhere.” He says “I was in the garden, and I planted the vine. I was in the realm of the angels. I was five hundred leagues tall, and my body was covered in eyes, and Moses fell down at my feet and was sore afraid.” He says “A blow job's fifteen bucks.”
He goes to Madison Square Garden and climbs in through the air ducts. He drapes himself above the stage. He watches the man. There are a thousand people watching. The man is long and thin and pale and electric. He's dying, maybe already dead.
Steve likes him.
He follows the man back to his hotel. He climbs up the wall, goes in through the window. He blinks. The room is huge and open. The carpet is white and furry. The walls are white and gleaming. The living room, which is visible from the bed, is at the bottom of a pit. The furniture is red, red, red.
Some distant part of the asset is appalled.
Ain't this supposed to be a classy joint? Why the hell does it look like someone opened up a whorehouse inside a bomb shelter?
The man does not seem to have noticed his terrible hotel room.
The man is already pretty far gone.
“Hey,” Steve says, and pulls off his shirt.
“Hello,” says the man. “Did you just come in through the window?”
“And we're still on the tenth floor, then?”
“Ah, well,” says the man.
Steve thinks Jesus Christ, this guy's got some serious fuckin' problems.
Then he thinks And you know it's bad when even I'm thinking it, pal.
They do some smack. Steve sucks the man's dick. The man says “Where did you come from, sexy robot man?”
Steve says “Outer space,” but the man has already nodded out.
Steve uses the man's shower, takes his drugs and his wallet, and heads right back out the window.
George doesn't like to talk about the war. He talks about it anyway.
"This guy, his name was Marty, right? He steps on a mine. And I'm looking at him, and his whole front's just gone. Just – gone, you know? And he's using his hands to try to put it back in again. His insides. It's all falling out and he's trying to put it back."
Steve says "I remember. Vietnam."
The heat, the wet, the screaming, the sun like a whip across the rippling green. Frogs in the market with their heads cut off, still hopping right out of the basket. An overturned jeep set on fire. People crouching on the street to eat hot noodles in the hot night, the little fruits and green leaves dropped into the soup and he's so hungry he could –
He says "I saw frogs. In the market. Their heads were cut off. But they didn't know it yet." He says "People are like that sometimes. Dead, but don't know it yet. I think. Maybe they don't hurt too much? Because they're already dead."
George says "Maybe."
They're low on money, and he doesn't feel like sucking dick, so he finds a drug dealer and takes his cash and his smack and his Glock.
He doesn't even kill the guy.
They need her death to make an impression, and he cuts and cuts until the blond hair is soaked through with blood –
"Steve. Hey, Steve, buddy. Snap out of it, man."
The asset blinks. George is peering at him from a few inches away, his eyebrows drawn together. "You were shouting. In Russian, I think. How the fuck do you know Russian, man?"
"I." the asset says. "Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about." He slumps down at the asset's side. "You're not the only fucked up vet in New York."
"I killed. Children," the asset says.
"Shit," George says. "I remember coming up on a village once, and this kid comes running straight at us, and he's holding something. I don't know who shot first, maybe we all did. The kid must have died with about twenty bullets in him. Turns out he was holding a fucking mango." He closes his eyes, then opens them. He fumbles through his piles of possessions to find his rig. The rig is the most important possession. "I met a guy who sprayed agent orange," he says. "You ever think about that, Steve? This guy's been out of the shit for years, and he's still killing people. Babies getting born with their faces all fucked up. Drinking cancer in their milk."
He shoots up. He lies back. He closes his eyes.
"You ever think about that?"
Smack makes the asset feel slow and easy. It makes pleasure drift down his spine and settle near the dead place between his legs. It makes the corners of his mouth curl up. It makes him think that someone kind might have touched him once.
It makes George lie on the ground and drool.
The asset is envious of George's attainment of such an extreme level of relaxation. The asset has not yet achieved such a bitchin' high. His body processes opiates easily (it's time to go to sleep, soldier), but can not instantly metabolize heavy metals and other contaminants. Assessment: difficult. Expensive. High likelihood of fatal overdose.
He'll still do it, one day. Just not yet.
In the mean time, George has not eaten for over 48 hours. His drug use is beginning to interfere with unit cohesiveness.
The asset knows how to deal with that.
"Hey," he says. "Hey, George." He smacks George's cheek with his meat hand. "Wake the fuck up."
"Huh?" George blinks, squints. He has been sleeping behind the counter of the boarded-up general store they're squatting in with his head on a pile of dusty copies of Ladies Home Journal. The asset has been keeping watch. Now the asset tugs away his tattered blanket.
"Rise and shine, sweetheart."
"Ugh. Fuck off, sarge, I already got my discharge papers."
The asset blinks.
"I'll fuck off once you get the fuck up, solider. Jesus Christ, you look like two pounds of shit in a five pound sack. Get the fuck up, wash your goddamn face, you're a disgrace to the US army and I'm ashamed to be your fuckin' CO. Come on, let's go, up and at 'em."
"Shit," George says. "Who says you're my CO?"
"What, you think you're in charge of this unit? You can barely fuckin' stand up."
George smiles. "So you're saying that your creepy-ass ability to shoot up all day and then climb around on the rooftops all night like the fuckin' batman puts you in charge?"
"Yeah, that and how I outrank you. Chain of command, dollface."
"Yeah? What's your rank?"
"Aren't you the one calling me sarge? Off your ass, private."
"Aw, shit, I knew you sounded like my old drill sergeant. I think I liked you better when you never talked," George says, and stands up.
The asset lets the grin drop off of its face. "Acknowledged."
George's eyes go wide. "What the – fuck, man, I didn't mean that. I like it when you talk, don't go all Chief Bromden on me again."
The asset replaces the grin, and gives George a smack on the ass. "No need to sweet-talk me, baby. I got a tub of water over there, and some soap and a comb. Get yourself cleaned up, do something about that disaster on your head."
"Hey, man, don't disrespect my fro."
"That thing's a fro like I'm Farah Fawcett, private: your wishing won't make it so. Come on, chop fuckin' chop."
"Yeah, yeah," George says. "I'm moving, sarge, don't have a coronary."
Steve brings George to the diner. Steve is wearing boots, jeans, a t-shirt, and his denim jacket. His hair is past his shoulders. His eyes are half-lidded. He is high.
He looks like a hippie.
He looks like a burnout.
George is wearing a t-shirt (stolen by Steve, given to George), his dog tags, his fatigue pants. They walk together to the diner. A girl shouts "baby killer," and George flinches.
Steve stops. Steve looks at the girl who shouted. She is dressed like Steve; long hair and denim. He walks toward her. He knows how he walks. Not like a person. Like something dark that is closing in.
He says "Hey, lady, my pal George here is a good guy, and if you weren't a dame I'd show you just what I think about you talking like that to a veteran. George isn't a baby killer. But you know what?"
No, please, please, I'll do anything that you want, anything, just don't hurt her –
The girl runs away. The asset goes into an alley to be sick.
George pats his shoulder. He says "Hey, sarge. Thanks."
The asset says "No problem, man."
They go to the diner. Steve stops for a second at the door. He thinks George won't be allowed inside.
He shakes his head. They go in. George is allowed. They sit in a booth. They look at menus.
The waitress says "What can I getcha?"
Steve says "What's good today, doll?"
The waitress giggles.
What's good today is a Meatloaf Special. George and Steve each have a Meatloaf Special.
It's the best thing Steve has ever tasted.
Steve looks at George. Why would George not be allowed inside?
Hypothesis: because George needs a shower. And a shave. And a haircut. And a change of clothes.
The asset shoots up. The asset goes to a bar. The asset locates a target.
The target is small. The target is thin. The target is blond. The target has big blue eyes. The target is willing to pay twenty bucks.
The asset is
They fuck, they are fucking, they are fucking in an alley, the target is inside of him, he is inside of him, yes, yes, yes, his hand, it feels good, your hand, it feels good, yes, oh yeah Stevie yes –
The body has never
The target kisses the base of the asset's neck. The target peels off the rubber and zips up his pants. The target says "Who's Stevie?" He says "Hey, were you a model or something, before, um." He gestures towards the asset's left arm. "The war? Because you could be, you know? You look kind of like James Dean or something."
The asset frowns, and buttons his blue jeans. He is beginning to feel uncomfortable. The mission involved an unanticipated expulsion of fluids.
The fluids are growing sticky.
He says "Who the hell is James Dean?"
The target says "Wait, what? You don't know who James Dean is? Oh my God, where have you been for the last twenty years?"
The asset says "Abroad."
The target says. "Ok, that's cool, right on, I guess." He scratches his head. "Listen, do you want to maybe come over to my place and listen to some records? I could make you some spaghetti or something."
The asset blinks. The asset says "Right on."
The target's name is Kevin Kolakowski (call me Kev). Kev is twenty years old. Kev is an art student at NYU. Kev has a nice apartment in a nice part of the Upper East Side. Kev is "gay and proud."
Insufficient intelligence to determine accuracy of statement.
What the hell is that supposed to mean, kid?
The asset likes him.
The asset uses Kev's shower while Kev makes spaghetti. Kev and the asset eat spaghetti and drink red wine out of lumpy coffee cups. Kev and the asset smoke a joint. Kev and the asset listen to a Lou Reed album and neck on the worn-out Persian rug on the living room floor, because Kev doesn't have a sofa. What he does have is seven spider plants. He offers a small spider plant to the asset. "For your apartment. He pauses. “Do you, um, have an apartment? Or a place to stay?"
The asset considers. "I have a squat. In alphabet city. But I need to move.” He moves to a new squat once every four days. George says that this is “Some seriously Looney Tunes shit.”
The asset doesn't disagree with George's assessment.
"Oh," Kev says, and his big blue eyes get very wide. "You can, you know, come over here whenever you need to. If, I mean, you want to take a shower or something it'd be cool, man."
The asset is touched. He stays after Kev turns the record over.
He leaves through the window before Kev can wake up.
Two days later Steve brings George to Kev's apartment. He knocks on the door. Kev opens it. Smoke billows out. Kev says "Hey, James Dean!" He leans back into the room to say "It's that guy I was talking about!" before turning back to Steve. "Who's your friend?"
Steve says "This is George. He needs a shower. And a shave. And a haircut. And a change of clothes."
George says "Hey, what the fuck, man?"
Steve says "I can pay."
Kev says "No way! Mi casa es tu casa, right? Listen, we're having a little party right now, so you can get cleaned up, borrow some threads from me, put your stuff in the wash downstairs, and then chill with us for a while."
George goes to take a shower with an armful of Kev's clothes. The asset goes with Kev to chill in the living room. The living room is full of people.
This is bad.
One of the people is rolling a joint.
This is good.
The asset makes a friend. Her name is Lisa. Lisa says that she is the one who made Kev's lumpy coffee cups. She says that they are "hand-thrown."
The asset thinks that they'd probably be hand-thrown out the window if Kev was a more particular housekeeper. He is glad that Lisa is better at rolling joints than she is at making coffee cups.
He isn't sure when he started having so many opinions all the time.
Lisa braids the asset's hair. She touches the asset's metal hand. She says "This is far out. It's like out of Star Trek or something!"
"What?" says the asset.
Kev says "He's been abroad. Right, James?"
"James Buchanan Barnes, I swear, if you try to embarrass me like that one more time in front of the general I'm going to tell Dum-Dum who told that girl in Calais that he had the clap."
"Right," says the asset.
Lisa says "Abroad where?"
The asset says "everywhere."
He is teaching his new friends useful phrases in Mandarin (给我来500克伏特加: Bring me 500 grams of vodka. 我是无辜的！我什么都不知道！I am innocent! I know nothing!) when George emerges from the bathroom.
Lisa laughs. "Did you just say holy smokes?"
Kev says "Check out Sidney Poitier!"
George is embarrassed. Steve is embarrassed. They are both embarrassed.
Steve says "You look real good, George."
George says "Thanks, sarge."
They pass the joint around. Kev leans up against Steve's side and plays with his hair. George flirts with Lisa. No one seems to care.
"Hey, so do you have a real name?"
The asset shrugs his metal shoulder. "James is fine."
"Yeah, ok, you don't want to tell me your real name, I can dig it. You're like an international man of mystery or something, right? Like, you can't tell me because it's classified?"
Kev smiles. "So do you know ten different ways to kill me right now?"
The asset considers. "Unclear use of phrase 'different ways.' But. I would say. At least two dozen."
"Oh my God. I should introduce you to my ex. Listen, I'm going to cook some dinner. Want to help?"
Kev cooks. The asset helps.
Let no man say that Mrs. Barnes didn't raise a gentleman.
Kev is making pizza. He says "Can you chop up some carrots for the salad?"
The asset frowns. "How should I. Chop them."
"Oh, uh, I dunno. I always just, you know, slice them. Can you do matchsticks? Like at a salad bar?"
The asset makes the carrot into matchsticks. He flips his knife. He says "What else. Should I chop."
Lisa says "whoa."
After dinner the asset teaches Lisa some elementary knife-fighting skills. Lisa is a reasonably adept pupil.
The asset stays at Kev's place after everyone leaves. He owes Kev for helping George. He says "Want a blow job?"
Now they are even.
Kev says "Relax, baby, let me take care of you."
They are no longer even.
Steve will have to visit Kev again.
He doesn't mind.
Steve worries about George.
Steve knows that his body is unusually resilient. It takes getting shot. It takes getting fucked. It takes the smack. George's body is not unusually resilient, so Steve takes care of him. Brings him food, brings him soap and water and a new t-shirt. Brings him to Kev's place for a shower and a shave. George always says stuff like “Nah, man, I can't take that,” but he takes it anyway.
Steve knows that his mind is unusually fragile. He forgets things: things about himself, things about the world, things that happened this morning or in his early childhood (Steve never had a childhood). Sometimes he speaks the wrong language. Sometimes he frightens people without meaning to. Sometimes he goes away, for a while, and wakes up somewhere else. George's mind is fragile too, but in a different way. He still knows how to talk to people. He knows how to calm down someone who presents a threat instead of stabbing them through the throat. He knows how to pat Steve's hand and say "Hey, it's ok, you didn't hurt anybody," when Steve is confused and afraid.
When George is sleeping Steve takes watch. When Steve is sleeping George takes watch.
George is Steve's best friend.
One night they shoot up together and Steve looks at George's face and he remembers –
It's his first time at the Savoy, and he used to think he was a real hotshot on the dance floor, but when he sees the pros in their corner he realizes what a mook he is. These guys dance like something out of the pictures, and Buck watches them and thinks that this must be what Stevie feels like in church.
Eventually he stops staring like cousin Elmer visiting from Albany and starts to dance, close enough to the pros that he can try to pick up a move or two. He nearly chokes when one of the pro girls grabs him and starts dancing with him, but then he's just doing his damnedest not to look like a putz and grinning to beat the band. After a while she winks and spins off, but then another pro jumps in to replace her, a tall, lanky guy. He gives a little grin. "Think you can keep up?"
"No sir," Bucky says, because let no one say that J. B. Barnes ain't a straight shooter. "But I'll do my best."
It's not too strange to Lindy with a guy: just different, is all. Some pro teams do it as a novelty act. There's not much touching unless you're doing a lift. But now, with this guy, the touches are coming thick and fast; little guiding touches on his waist, his hips, his shoulders. It might just be the guy showing him how it's done, if it weren't for the fact that when Buck loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar the guy drops his eyes down to Bucky's throat and licks his lips, then looks straight at him and smiles.
Buck thinks that he's about fit to pass out.
"I need a drink," he says, and the guy nods.
"Good dancing with you." He gives Buck a little smack on the shoulder, and turns into the touch just long enough to whisper "I get off at midnight" right into Bucky's ear.
Buck's having a smoke on the sidewalk near the front entrance when the guy comes out. They lock eyes, and Bucky lets him pass, then follows a few yards behind. They walk for a while: Buck smoking, the other guy whistling with his hands in his pockets. Then they turn into a side street, then into another street, and finally into a building with the windows boarded up.
There's the hiss of a match and then light from a hurricane lamp. They're in an abandoned office, nothing left behind but a couple of desks and a chair with a broken back. They look at each other for a second. Buck says "So what's a nice guy like you doing in a dump like this?"
The guy laughs. He says "What can I call you?"
"Buck's all right. You?"
"Pleased to meetcha, Frankie," Bucky says.
Frankie smiles, then steps in to close the distance between them. "You move all right for a white boy."
"You should see me horizontal," Bucky says, but then Frankie kisses him before he can get much fresher.
They kiss together about as well as they dance together, which is to say pretty damn well, if Buck says so himself. Bucky pulls back for some air, and Frankie smiles down at him, soft and easy. "You ever been with a Negro before?"
"Naw. You ever been with a Jew?" He never tells anyone that he's half a Jew – hell, he'll deny it if they ask, always wanted to be a nice Irish Catholic boy like all of the Barnes cousins – but it seems right to say it now. Like it makes things fairer.
Besides, Gran always said that it passed down on the mother's side.
Frankie stops moving for a second. "You're a Jew? You don't look like one."
"Yeah? How's a Jew look?"
"Hell, I don't know. Not like you." He cards his fingers through Bucky's hair. Buck would tell him off for messing it up, but after all of the sweating and dancing he ain't fit to be seen anyhow. Besides, it feels good. He tilts his head down a little. "Looking for my horns?"
Frankie laughs, but it sounds a little guilty, like he's been caught. "So is it a lie about your dick, too?"
"Nope. Is it a lie about yours?"
Frankie grins real slow. "Why don't you see for yourself?"
Buck's down on his knees in a second. "I was just waiting for an invitation."
He doesn't do guys that often – too much work and danger when he could just pick up a girl – but sometimes he's just got to scratch that itch. And this is about as good as it gets, he thinks: danced out and fucked out and the taste of a guy in his mouth, and for a second he can imagine that it's Steve he's tasting –
Steve's curled up in a ball, rocking. His mind is a pit of things he doesn't understand, things that hurt like a knife when he tries to make sense of them. He feels George's hand on him. He hears George's voice. "Hey, Steve, it's ok. You're here in New York. You're safe. You're all right, man."
He opens his eyes and George is here and alive and so handsome and he moves to kiss him and George shoves him away. “What the fuck, man? What sort of faggot shit are you trying to pull?”
Steve goes still. He says “I'm sorry.” He says “I. Miss him.”
George goes still too. He says “That's ok, man. Hey, Steve, don't cry. I'm the one who should be sorry, man, I'm a real jackass. You're a great guy, you know? You're a really cool guy. Hey, Steve, come on. Come over here. Give me a hug. You're a great guy. You're a really good guy."
Steve sometimes thinks that he was wrong about his name. He thinks that Steve is his someone else. But he likes hearing the name in George's mouth. He doesn't know what he'd do if he couldn't hear it.
Steve and George go to the diner. Steve and George shoot up. Steve and George talk about their families.
"I have a sister, Rosie. She lives up in Harlem. I haven't seen her since I got back. I figure she wouldn't want to see me all fucked up like this, you know? I was top of my class in high school. Now I'm just another fucking junkie. No way she wants to see me now."
George's full name is George Harris Paxton. His sister is Rose Harriet Paxton.
Steve finds her apartment building. He waits on the stoop. He has borrowed a shirt and trousers from Kev's friend Gary. He has taken a shower. He has polished his boots.
He's looking pretty damn sharp.
A Lady emerges from the building. He stands. He wants to take off his hat.
She says "I'm happy with my church and I'm not buying anything."
He says "It's about your brother. George. He could really use his family right now, ma'am."
He leads Ms. Paxton to the diner where he told George to meet him. He climbs up a fire escape. He watches through the window from the opposite rooftop. Rosie cries. George cries. Rosie takes George home.
Steve is alone.
He goes to visit Kev. He goes through the window. He uses Kev's shower. He waits in the dark.
Kev says "Ohmygodholyshitwhatthefuckyouscaredtheshitoughtofme."
The asset says "Sorry." He says "I want."
Kev pulls in a shaky breath. "Hey, no problem, babe. What do you want?"
Kev has a mattress on his bedroom floor. They fuck on the mattress. The body is highly cooperative.
The asset is
Kev is concerned.
"Hey, hey, baby, it's ok. Shh, hey, it's ok. What's wrong? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
The asset shakes his head. He says "Can you."
"Can I what?"
"Can you." He takes a breath. Forces it out. "Hold me."
"Yeah, yeah, sure, right on, babe."
Kev holds the asset. The asset feels –
The asset feels.
He says "Steve." He says "I. He was. He was my –" He says "He died. In the war."
Kev says "Oh, shit. That's – that's heavy."
Kev nuzzles his face into the back of the asset's neck, and laces their right hands together. "I got you," he says. "Ok? We can just, you know, cuddle. For as long as you want."
It's the best thing the asset has ever felt.
He closes his eyes and thinks about Steve.
He doesn't know what he'd do without his shots. Without them he wouldn't be able to remember.
He wakes up.
Into the jaws of death
He shoots up.
We can, if you want to
He gets fucked.
If you ran to the moon
He shoots up.
I thought you were –
He is lying in the park in the sun and they find him. He is lying in the park in the sun and they take him. He hears the voices from far, far away.
“Did it really bite a guy's dick off?”
“It bit its handler's dick off. Then it snapped his neck, killed six techs, climbed up through a ventilation shaft and jumped through a seventh story window.”
“And Alex signed up for the job?”
“Well, maybe he won't try to stick his dick in a fucking bear trap.”
He is strapped to the chair with the smack in his veins and don't leave me don't leave me don't leave me agai –
It wakes up.
it wakes up
it wakesup it
wakes and it wakes and it wakes and he wakes and he wakes and never dies, never dies, never fucking dies—
It wakes up.
The tube slides in. The stomach fills. A tooth is rotten. The tooth is removed. The body is washed. The wounds are stitched. The face is shaved. The hair is cut. The nails are trimmed. The arm is opened. The arm is repaired. The asset is detailed. The asset is handled.
It holds out its arm for its shots.