The Show Must Go Offâ€“part six
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Chugger was only a bartender, but he was so big he probably couldn’t put a thumb through the handle of a stein. From a distance he might’ve looked short and stocky if no one was near him. He worked bar alone because no one would fit behind the bar with him, but, if he bent straight out from the waist, he could pick up a tip a customer dropped on the floor. He had a file that interested me. Convicted of a permanent mauling back in ’48, he’d plead ‘no contest’ to skip most of the trial and be held for the next ship up here. Rumor was he hadn’t been driving at all, but had hitched a ride with a methhead and been unlucky in his getaway. Rumor also had it he’d been so desperate for a ride because he’d committed a mass murder. He’d logged a single fight in the G-Games. He’d deliberately swapped partners until he got the scariest opponent available, one Joe ‘Iron’ No Last Name. Chugger had slowly walked up to him, begun a straight right punch before the buzzer, got hit four times in the chest for four cracked ribs in a half second before his left jab to ‘Iron’s’ throat killed ‘Iron’ almost instantly. A broken neck with one punch is rare, even for someone who walks into it dodging the other hand and leaning forward for their own offense. It’s even more rare for a neck to break while it’s in a collar designed to withstand a high-caliber shell. Chugger broke one knuckle with that punch, but no one is EVER going to fight him again. He’s fast enough he buses the whole bar between rounds. And soft-hearted.
“Help you?” he said. I’d timed it perfectly, shown up as the bar emptied for a major arena fight.
“How much are crackers?” I used the GameFace app I’d written to pale my face a little more as I drooped my lids.
“One lowchit’ll get you two packs.” He had them out on the word ‘one.’
I paused for effect. I pulled out three lowchits. “I’m afraid I don’t have a tip, sir. Six packs please.”
He frowned. “Down on your luck?”
“Yes sir.” I bought the six cracker packs, opened one and nearly swallowed them whole without dropping a crumb.
“You look terrible.”
“I’ve only had water today so far.” I started the second pack.
He glanced at the empty bar. “I can give you another glass if you like.”
I apped up some misty eyes. “Please. And thank you.”
He had a full glass beside my third pack and the first empty wrapper gone before I finished ‘you.’ “You get a bad jumper?”
Not a bad guess. Short-hop ships were expensive to replace. “No. Business isn’t working out. Linen is too expensive.”
He frowned deeper. “LINEN? Hotels are doing fine here.”
“I only have the one room. But it’s here.”
He blinked. “Here?”
“Two doors down. You can hear crowds outside it. No one can hear in, but, who could sleep there? Room’s mine free and clear, and I can’t even sell it for a year because I’m newly convicted.”
He glanced down at my comasuit with it’s broken toolclip. “You don’t say.”
“I’ve been thinking I might have to offer it to local hookers who bed Enforcers, but I don’t want to.”
That riled him. “Have you?”
He pushed a button under the bar that locked up. “Bus the tables. I’ll give you a highchit. Then I want to see the place.”
I managed to look weakly surprised. “What about a lowchit and breakfast?”
He grinned, took one pack back and said, “Done.”
Chugger worked doubles a lot at The Big Screen–small bar with good food and the biggest screen outside the arena rooms. His online grievances were that he could never walk home fast enough to see a woman and hotels were expensive. He booked my room for three hours between lunch-end and his happy hour. For a MONTH. I’d thought I’d get a week. Chugger turned out to be quite a ladies’ man. His deposit bought me six sets of linen, food for a week, and a mining worksuit. A good day.
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