As a security guard for Flores Security Services, Buddy’s primary duty consisted of walking the hallways of Sunrise Mall, serving as a visual deterrent to all would-be shoplifters. He felt his occupation to be pointless since, for as long as he could remember, Sun City held the label of “Safest City in America”.
Several years ago, Sun City decided to lease out all law enforcement responsibilities to a private entity. Arthur Flores won the bid and created Flores Security Services as a result. The company immediately responded to the large criminal element through excessive force and numbers. The rumors regarding their unconventional punishment tactics quickly decreased the amount of illegal acts performed within city limits to near non-existence.
As Buddy walked to work, his mind drifted off to thinking about his dream. The details were still crisp in his mind. He could still feel the heat pulling against his skin. He could feel the anger welling up within him. He became aware his teeth were clenched and forced himself to relax, just as he heard a loud yell from above his head. He turned to look for the source of the noise, only to find an object plummeting toward him, hammering him into the ground.
A young man jumped to his feet and reached his hand out to assist Buddy in doing the same.
“Hey, man, thanks for breaking my fall,” he said. “You alright?”
Buddy slowly got to his feet and brushed himself off. “Yeah, I think. What just happened?”
“Sorry, dude. I was testing out this new particle-based propulsion system I’ve been working on. I figured it could be really useful in replacing these second floor windows and whatnot. It was working beautifully, dude, but I think it overheated or something, not that there is any reason it–” He stopped mid-sentence. “Well, anyways, next thing I know, I’m heading towards your head and ker-pow. I would’ve been making a splat on the pavement if you weren’t there to catch me, so, thanks!”
Buddy stared at the young man for a moment. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties. He had dark brown hair, a tan complexion, and was short. Buddy guessed he was five foot five. He was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, but still managed to look wealthy, perhaps due to the shiny gadget strapped to his back. It resembled a pair of over-sized hair dryers.
“Hey, well, I totally owe you one, pal. Why don’t you let me buy you breakfast?”
“Don’t think so, kid. I’m late enough as it is.” Buddy resumed his walk to work. The young man joined his side.
“Seriously, chief, I owe you one and Ryan Reed always repays his debts, so-”
“Why don’t you repay me by putting together a rocket pack that works?” Buddy continued walking.
“It’s not exactly a rocket pack. It’s powered by negatively charged ions interacting-“ Ryan cut himself short once again. “Right, rocket pack. The thing is, it totally does work.”
“Yeah, my back believes you.”
“I know, like I said, I’m so sorry, man. What can I do to make it up to you?”
Buddy stopped and looked into Ryan’s eyes. “Kid, I really appreciate how you want to make this all better, but forget about it. Accidents happen. Let’s just leave it at that.” Buddy started walking again.
“But accidents don’t happen to me. I’m Ryan Reed.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Alright, Ryan, how about we look at this a different way? You made my day slightly worse by landing on me. You’ll make it slightly better by leaving me alone. I think that makes us even.”
Ryan stopped in his tracks. “Ouch, dude. That hurts.”
Buddy continued walking. Ryan yelled after him.
“Don’t you worry, sir, I’ll pay you back. You can trust me. A Reed’s word is as good as gold. That’s what my dad always says.“
Just as Ryan was out of sight, Buddy found himself at work. A nearby clock told him he was, for the first time in weeks, only 10 minutes late.
He walked to the front door and found it locked. He stood in confusion, trying to comprehend the reasons this would be so. He pulled on the door in vain several times before he noticed the piece of paper taped to it.
Effective October 14th, 2012
All personnel are to be evacuated from the premises of the office of Flores Security Services pending current investigation by the United States Federal Government.
Flores Security Services has been ordered to immediately cease all activity, whether provided for the purposes of law enforcement or otherwise. No entry shall be made by any personnel for any reason.
Entering these facilities will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
This order has been directed under the supervision and command of the federal government of the United States of America.”
Buddy blinked a few times, read the notice again, blinked one more time, looked over his shoulder to see if someone was playing a prank on him, looked back at the notice, and smiled.
“Well, I guess that means I’ve got time for a shower.”
Buddy walked to his apartment, feeling it was appropriate to have the first place he had stayed employed at for any length of time to be closed down around him. As he accepted his fate as somebody who would never continue with gainful employment, he turned the corner to the street on which he lived.
He stopped in his tracks.
He felt a sense of satisfaction in now knowing where the tower of smoke he had seen earlier was coming from. Unfortunately, it was his apartment building. He stood and stared at the smoldering remains of his home. He slowly found his way to the curb and fell roughly into a seated position on the edge of it.
He didn’t say anything.
He didn’t move.
While staring at the ashtray that had once been his home, he was confused by his lack of emotion. Everything he had in this life, outside of his sister, had been instantly torn away from him, yet, he didn’t feel sad. He didn’t know what he felt. He had no idea what to do and was avoiding the only possible option he had left. So he did nothing. For the next four hours he did absolutely nothing but sit and stare at the remains of his home.
Then he stood.
He wandered without destination for over an hour. He paid no attention to his surroundings as he ambled through the city’s streets.
After his feet began to tire, he woke from his stunned state and realized he was only a block away from the location he had been avoiding. The sun was setting on the horizon, so Buddy decided it was finally time to face his sister.
The sight he viewed as he rounded the corner and arrived on Barber St was quite different than it had been when he had left. Smoke was still pouring out of the buildings that had been on fire only a few hours earlier, but the wreckage had been removed from the street.
The front window to Maggie’s Diner had been replaced with a large piece of plywood. Her neon sign was back in place stating she was open for business. The sidewalks were no longer crowded with people working to repair their homes and businesses. In fact, the street was almost completely devoid of people altogether. Yet, there was the unmistakable sound of camaraderie in the air. The noise filled the street.
He walked toward the source of this amazing clattering of happy voices and found himself in front of the door to Maggie’s. Hearing happiness inside of Maggie’s Diner was not all that odd, but it would have taken some sort of miracle for Maggie to have gotten everything repaired by now, at least repaired enough for her to consider reopening for business. Even ignoring that issue, the sheer volume of sound emanating from inside this familiar location was like nothing Buddy had heard from within before.
He opened the door slowly, fearing what he might find on the other side. As the door swung on its hinges he was greeted by the spectacular scene of Maggie’s Diner the way it always should have been, packed from wall to wall with people.
He stepped inside and pushed his way through the crowd. Although he wanted nothing more than to be left alone, he couldn’t help but smile slightly at the happiness showing on the faces of the people around him. As he made his way to his favorite bar stool, people patted him on the back, shook his hand, and greeted him as if they were all long-lost friends. All he could do in reply was mutter simple one-syllable responses.
He had almost made it to the other side of the restaurant, where he intended to place himself upon his personal bar stool, when a hand rested on his shoulder. He turned to look at the person who was now keeping him from where he wanted to be. He found the hand belonged to the young man who had only hours earlier used Buddy to cushion his fall.
“Hey, dude! What are you doing here?” Ryan yelled over the noise. He was now dressed in a floor length duster jacket with a pair of safety goggles perched on top of his head. Beneath the jacket escaped a glimmer of silver. Although Buddy couldn’t determine exactly what was worn on Ryan’s chest, he feared it was yet another gadget intent on causing him harm.
Buddy glanced at his bar stool, wondering how it was still empty considering the evening’s boost in clientele. It looked lonely as the only empty seat in the house. Buddy made a promise he would end its loneliness soon.
“Remember me? Ryan Reed. From earlier, dude! I was the one who totally smoosh–”
“Yeah, I remember. My back still remembers.”
“Good one, dude,” Ryan laughed. “Buddy, right?”
“Yep, nice to see you ag–”
“You wouldn’t happen to be Buddy Jackson, would you? As in Big Bold Buddy Jackson?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I thought I recognized you! Dude, that is awesome. I wasn’t old enough to watch your fights live or anything, since my mom thought they were too violent or whatever, but my dad used to talk about you all the time. Is it true you ended your career undefeated?”
“I don’t know, kid, sure.” Buddy hated it when people recognized him. It was as if he was forever destined to remember his old life and be reminded how his current one didn’t match up.
“Awesome dude, simply awesome. So, what are you doing nowadays? Still a big mean fighting machine?” Ryan punched the air a couple times, making “POW” noises as he did so. As his arm came back from the second swing, his elbow bumped into the table behind him, sending several drinks to their side. Ryan’s eyes never left Buddy.
“I don’t know what to tell you kid. I don’t do much anymore.”
“Well that sucks, dude. I mean, you were the man back in the day. Hey, wait a second! I’ve got the perfect way for me to repay you for earlier. I don’t know if you heard or not, but Flores Security is closed. Maybe for good. Rumor has it the government thinks Arthur Flores is up to something fishy. Anyways, that’s left me with a security gap back at the shop. You ever work in security before? I mean, not like it matters in Sun City.”
Ryan laughed as he handed Buddy his business card. It listed him as the president of Reed Pharmaceuticals and gave an office number.
Reed Pharmaceuticals, a division of ReedCorp, was the biggest drug company in the nation, if not the world. They had long been the face of the fight against cancer, producing some of the first drugs on the market shown to actually combat cancer cells themselves. They were also the top producer of pharmaceutical products providing relief to patients suffering from the effects of a large range of other diseases, from AIDS down to the common cold.
Buddy looked at the card, looked up at Ryan, and looked back at the card. He found it hard to believe that this goofy young man was the president of Reed Pharm. He put the card in his pocket and looked at Ryan in earnest.
“Thanks, kid. I just might take you up on that.”
“Well, in case you don’t, can I buy you a drink?”
“Sure kid. Never turn down a free drink.” Buddy had never paid for a drink at Maggie’s.
He walked to his seat and found it still empty, as if kept for him by some mystical force. He sat down and greeted his stool-neighbor, who happened to be the only person in the room Buddy would normally expect to find in the diner.
“Hey, Sal,” Buddy said. “What’s going on in here, tonight? Some kind of party?”
“Buddy!” Sal muttered, “I’ve been waiting for you. It’s big this time, Buddy! They’ve done it, they’ve taken our minds. They’ve wiped our memories clean!”
“Yeah? Who is it this time, the Russians, the Chinese, Skull and Bones?”
“The government! Our own blasted government!” Sal said this with a giant wave of his arms as if to indicate everything around him was involved in this particular conspiracy. “The government made us forget!”
“Ryan,” Buddy exclaimed, “Meet Sal Credenza.”
Ryan extended his hand. “Nice to meet you sir,”
“Don’t call me that, kid. Makes me feel old.”
“You are old, Sal,” Buddy laughed.
Sal’s short bright-white hair stood up straight on top of his head and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in most of the past century. The grizzled beard that hung off his chin appeared to be fighting to escape in whatever direction freedom might be waiting.
“That’s quite the aroma you’re sporting today, Sal. What is it? Stale beer, rotten pipe tobacco, and onions?”
“You’re one to talk, Buddy,” Sal shot back sharply. “I can still smell that old bathroom soap on you. No shower again today?”
“Hey, who’s got the time, am I right?” Buddy laughed and slapped Sal on the back.
“So,” Ryan sounded uncomfortable, “about those drinks.”
“Oh, don’t be in such a rush, kid,” Buddy said. “Sal’s a good guy to know. He knows everything. What was the one about the Loch Ness monster? You said he moved to Cincinnati, right?”
“Cleveland, you idiot!”
“Right, Cleveland. He’s a big time Indians fan now, I hear.”
“I know, you think I’m a joke,” Sal muttered. “But I know things, I tell ya.”
“Oh, I know you do, Sal,” Buddy laughed. “I just wish we had some good way to warn people about how the President’s an alien without them putting us up in a padded room.”
“Hey, don’t come crying to me when there’s no more corn, okay. He’s stealing it and there’s nothing we can do about it!”
“Right, because they use corn for energy on his planet,” Buddy guffawed. “I had almost forgot about that one.”
“I don’t know why I hang out around you, you smart ass.”
“Oh, come on, Sal. We’re best pals, you know that.”
“You are being a little mean,” Ryan started, “don’t you think?”
“Naw, Sal and I joke like this all the time, right Sal?”
“That’s right, you low-life good for nuthin’,” Sal laughed and slapped Buddy hard on the back.
“Alright, Sal. . . So, what did they make us forget? Does it have to do with the flu vaccine again?”
“I don’t remember,” Sal responded honestly, the melodic tones of his gruff, tired, old voice ringing a malicious note in Buddy’s ear. “They don’t want me to remember. But I know it’s true. I know because–”
“Buddy! Where have you been?” Maggie appeared behind the bar with sweat forming across her face. “Can you believe all this?”
“Where did all these people come from?” Buddy asked, grateful to see someone he knew could carry on a real conversation.
“Everywhere. It’s amazing. I was cleaning and people just started showing up and helping out. Before I knew it, this place was packed!”
“Shouldn’t they be cleaning their own messes or something?”
“I guess after last night’s scare, people decided they needed to get out of their homes and get together with friends. It’s happening all over town. I called Sherry because I was running out of bread. You know Sherry, she owns that little bar over on First. Anyways, she said she had already started turning people away and that was at three!”
“I tell ya, it’s the government. Remember Russia,” Sal interjected. “They were all fighting over a loaf of bread over there too! Next thing you know, we’ll all be sitting in the supermarket line waiting to be rationed out some croutons,”
“Anything I can do to help?” Buddy asked, really hoping he wouldn’t have to get off his seat.
“Well, actually, if you wouldn’t mind playing bartender for a while, I’d really appreciate it. Shouldn’t be too much work. I ran out of food over an hour ago and, since we’re under special circumstances, I told everyone they could BYOB if they wanted. People seem to have taken that to heart. The only reason I’m running around is because everyone wants to talk to me tonight for some reason.”
“Yeah, sis, whatever you need. Do you–“
“I’m sorry, Buddy, but I really can’t stay. I just ran up here to grab some olives because I’m starving. There’s a man over there who works for Arthur Flores. He’s talking about investing in the diner so we can get things fixed up even better than before. There’s not much liquor left, but your private reserve is in its normal place. If anyone wants something, it’s on the house, okay?” Maggie stuffed five olives in her mouth and ran back into the sea of people.
Buddy walked around the bar and began rummaging below. Ryan sat down at the newly emptied bar stool.
“Alright, Ryan, what am I drinking tonight?”
“Well, it is a party. It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t treat it as such.” Buddy placed two shot glasses in front of himself, reached under the bar, and pulled up the first bottle his hand touched, which just so happened to be a bottle of cheap whiskey. “Looks like we have a winner.”
“I don’t know if anyone’s a winner with that swill.” Ryan laughed.
“Let me tell you something kid,” Buddy said as he sloppily poured the brown liquid into the glasses. “I’ve been drinking for a long time and there’s one thing I’ve learned. When you play liquor roulette, everyone’s a winner.”
Buddy shoved one of the glasses in Ryan’s direction and picked up his own. He nodded to Sal, who gestured back grandly with his own glass.
“Sal,” he said brightly, “here’s to forgetting everything.” He tipped his head back quickly and downed the brew. Ryan gave his own drink a nasty look and followed suit, slamming his glass against the bar loudly. He let out a loud grunt.
“God, that’s some vile stuff,” he yelled.
Buddy filled the glasses again. “Another one coming at ya,” he laughed.
“Like the wise man once said,” Ryan returned, “never turn down a free drink.” He picked up the glass and threw the whiskey down his throat before Buddy had even finished filling his own.
“Now that’s a mantra I can live by,” Buddy yelled in return just before tossing his own back. They both slammed their glasses onto the bar and Buddy began filling again, emptying the bottle.
“Seriously, Buddy,” Ryan said, coughing through his words, “don’t you at least have a chaser or something I can use to wash this crap down with?”
“Try this,” Buddy said, pushing the shot glass back to Ryan. “But don’t get too attached,” he continued, holding up the bottle, “it’s the last we’ve got.”
“You mean there’s no more liquor?”
“Naw, I mean there’s no more of this crap,” he laughed. “There’s plenty more stuff under here that will turn your stomach.”
Ryan stared at the glass, his eyes crossing slightly. He picked it up and wrapped an arm around Sal. “Come on, Sal, you look like you need this more than I do.”
“Never touch the stuff, kid.”
“Smart move, old man,” Ryan spoke as he raised the glass to his lips once again.”
Buddy reached under the bar and came up with a bottle of rum. He began pouring the clear liquid into the glasses. “You drink rum, kid?”
“Not a drop. I had a really bad experience with rum a couple years ago and haven’t touched the stuff since. Peanuts haven’t quite been the same either.”
“Well, kid, I’ve got another little nugget of wisdom for you then.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“If it’s good enough for pirates, it’s good enough for you.” Buddy lifted his glass swiftly, as though he were afraid it would evaporate before reaching his mouth. He picked up the other glass and pushed it into Ryan’s face. Ryan placed his hand between the two and pushed the glass down.
“I’m all for a good, old fashioned drink-off, but seriously, what’s the rush?”
“Ya ever heard of Armageddon, kid?”
“Um, yeah, of course.”
“Well, the way I see it, it’s just around the corner. Can’t waste any time.” Buddy pushed the glass back into Ryan’s face.
“I need a minute. I’m not used to getting drunk this fast.”
“What? C’mon, you’re a young buck. You gonna let an old man like me out-drink you so quickly?”
Ryan groaned, realizing he couldn’t back down from the challenge. He picked up the glass, held it in front of his eyes momentarily and slammed the beverage quickly, choking as it went down.
“There ya go,” Buddy cheered. Buddy raised his glass and downed another self-imposed ration. Ryan continued coughing loudly. “You’re looking a little green there, kid.”
Without a word, Ryan ran from the bar, pushing his way through the crowd urgently.
“That wasn’t very nice, Buddy,” Sal reprimanded.
“Meh, he’ll get over it.”
Sal gave Buddy a hard look.
“Fine, I’ll go check on him.”
Buddy slowly left his spot behind the bar and made his way through the ocean of people between him and the restrooms. As he moved, he began feeling the effects of the alcohol wash over him. It felt like everyone was pushing against him, as if they were all trying to move in the same direction at the same time. He heard someone yelling something he couldn’t make out. Every step he took was that much harder than the previous. He couldn’t move without people getting further in his way.
“Guess I can’t hold my liquor anymore either,” Buddy thought to himself as his legs faltered beneath him. He continued through to the bathroom, barely making it through the door before he fell to the floor. The door slammed behind him as the lights dimmed. He heard the sound of someone losing their lunch nearby.
Darkness. . .
The sound of men crying for help rings through my head as I slowly regain consciousness. The only other sensation I am aware of is the ringing in my ears and the pounding which rages through my skull.
I open my eyes to see only more darkness. I turn my head in every direction, hoping to see any form of light or life. I find only more darkness.
I have no idea how long I’ve been lying here, nor do I know where I am. All I know is the present. My past is nothing more than an idea of something that should be there.
I attempt to get on my feet. My head collides with something overhead, making the already intolerable pounding all the more fierce. On my second attempt, I am more cautious to avoid repeating the mistake.
I move toward the voices I hear crying for help. The ground molds itself around my feet as though I were walking through quicksand. I make it only a few steps before I fall back to my knees in agony.
My skin burns with intense heat. I cry out for help, lungs burning. The heat overtakes my body, every pore screams in pain.
Light returns. I see rock walls, steel girders and rail tracks. Not far off in the distance, I see four men running toward me. As they near, their faces turn to looks of terror. Just as my surroundings become visible, the world blurs back into darkness, and I feel the calming effects of unconsciousness overcome me once again.
Go to Chapter Three