Self Retaliation

The plan was zoom poker. It was announced on the chat group by Marcel and when Friday night arrived he set up the session. One by one, Bradly, Doug, Jared, Shaun and Nate popped in, cheered by those already present, beers raised. They all lived within a few miles of each other, or even mere blocks for Doug, Jared and Shaun, but no-one had been face-to-face for weeks.

Getting the same poker app installed everywhere, setting up accounts, sending out invites, checking emails, it was dragging the night down. Then Jared chatted a link on Youtube of a TikTok video — a pack of guys, guys like them but cooler, skateboarding through empty streets—and everyone started chatting links and that was the end of the poker.

“Tinder is going pretty weird,” said Doug, shifting on a black leather couch. He was the only one still single.

“Weird how?” said Shaun. He was on a bed surrounded by frilled throw pillows.

“So much thirst,” said Doug.

Before he could elaborate another box appeared in everyone’s window showing the glare of a bare bulb until it was eclipsed by a head of lank black hair.

“Dave!” they all shouted. Beers were raised.

“Thank god,” said Doug, leaning into the camera. “Another bachelor. Have you been on Tinder?”

Dave raised a hand in greeting and then scratched at his self isolation beard. He was sitting in his garage. A bare wall with a workbench against it was visible behind him and bike handlebars stuck up into the frame.

“Tinder? Nah. It’s full of whores.”

“I know!” Doug put his head back and laughed. “Isn’t it great? I am drowning in nudes!”

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” said Bradly. He had headphones on and the camera showed his wife watching tv in the living room over his shoulder. He shifted around the kitchen island so there were only cupboards and a stove behind him. “Come on!”

“Send the nudes,” said Jared. He was in his garage. The hood of his truck was behind him.

The call for pictures was echoed by everyone except for Dave. He lifted a handgun from below the table and placed it in front of his laptop.

“Bro!” said Nate. He was on his phone in a dark room, only his face and chest was visible. “Where did you get that?”

“This?” said Dave, holding it up in front of the camera and ejecting the magazine. “Stood in line for it.”

While everyone was quiet he reached off screen. His hand reappeared holding shiny brass and copper rounds. He pushed one into the empty magazine.

“If I lived closer to the lake shore I’d buy a gun, too,” said Marcel. He was in front of the iMac in his home studio. The wall behind him was filled with art books.

“It’s not that bad,” said Dave, feeding another bullet into the magazine. “It’s quiet.”

“Quiet?” said Bradly. “Quiet-scary. Everyone’s inside and still like 6 cyclists have disappeared off the promenade.”

“Eight,” said Dave.

“I only heard about six,” said Bradly.

“It’s eight, isn’t it Nate,” said Dave. “And don’t worry, I’ve got a licence for this.”

Nate took a long drink of beer and stared into the camera. Finally, he said “It’s eight alright.” He was a cop. Not along the lake shore, but everyone was talking about it. “What are you loading up for?”

Dave slid another bullet into the magazine before answering.

“You’ve gotta be prepared. The world’s a shithole.” He paused to drink some beer. “A shithole full of assholes. I really thought for a while this corona virus was going to clean out the place. Became obvious pretty quick that wasn’t going to happen.”

He put down the beer and pushed another bullet into the magazine.

“Woah! Dark!” said Jared. “You want it like Italy or New York here?”

“A friend of mine lost an uncle in New York,” said Marcel.

“Italy’s already relaxing their lockdown,” said Bradly.

“The planet needed a pandemic,” said Dave. “It would fix everything. Poverty. Climate. Crowds. You can’t walk anywhere without being jostled or some guy in yellow and green spandex almost running you down. People stacked on top of people. It’s not right. Doesn’t it feel wack to you?”

“I hate crowds, too,” said Doug, “but letting millions of people die is wrong.”

“I’m out,” said Nate. “Call me if you start playing poker.”

The video windows rearranged themselves to erase Nate’s presence.

“Let’s try the poker again,” said Marcel. No-one seemed to hear him.

Time passes.

Nate told his wife he was going for a drive and before he knew it he was heading towards the lakeshore. He hit green lights the whole way. Turning onto Lake Shore Drive he switched on the scanner. Not that he was working. It was to keep him company.

Time passes.

“There was a real chance the world was going to change,” said Dave. He rattled the bullets remaining in his hand, like he was about to roll them like dice. “It was going to change, major change, and we didn’t have to do anything but go along for the ride. But they wrecked it and it’s up to us again to change things.”

He stood two bullets up on the table in front of himself and fed two more into the magazine.

“Be the change you want to see,” said Doug.

Time passes.

Beyond the reflections of lights the lake was a black hole between Nate and the glow of the city on the far shore. He was parked facing the lake, looking across the grass, the promenade, and the low wall that marked the water’s edge. It was like a vision of what the pandemic could have done. Cut a chunk out of the world. Why would Dave want that? Why would anyone want that? He watched a trio of cyclists glide past, flashing red lights clipped to their seats. No-one seemed to be riding alone.

Time passes.

“You can’t be change, Doug,” said Dave. “It’s nonsense. You can’t be stop global warming. You can’t be end unjust wars. You can’t even be respect personal space. You can only enact change. Make the changes you want to see.”

He stopped to drink more beer then slid the second last round into the magazine.

“Bro,” said Bradly, “the lockdown has been hard on all of us. And I gotta say that gun is making me nervous.”

Dave chuckled, a rasping chuckle deep in his throat.

“You think I’m going to shoot myself on stream? Bro, I’m the last person I would shoot.”

“Fuck the lockdown,” said Jared. “You want me to come over and hang out? We’ll play some Call of Duty. Six feet apart, sitting on my lap. I don’t care, bro.”

“I don’t need hand holding,” said Dave, pushing the last bullet into the magazine and then sliding the magazine back into the grip of the handgun. “I got to admit, I thought you guys might be more on my side.”

Time passes.

Nate counted fifteen full gear, spandex-clad cyclists passing in the couple of minutes he was parked. Nothing stops those types. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people cycle along here. Most just for fun. Eight never made it back home. Eight in eight days. That eight bothered him.

Time passes.

“We’re on your side,” said Marcel.

“You say it, but I don’t see it. I guess the virus has brought some stuff to the surface,” said Dave.

“Are you breaking up with us, bro?” said Jared. “Because we’re glad less people are dying?”

Dave was sitting back and cupping the gun in both hands, his finger clearly within the trigger guard and resting on the trigger.

“I’m just saying I think our paths are diverging.”

“Geez, Dave. You’re going full edge lord on us,” said Doug, opening a fresh beer.

Dave leaned into the camera. He opened his mouth to speak and his eyes darted to the side. There was a blur in front of the camera, some clanging, and all there was to see was the wall, the workbench and the handlebars.

Time passes.

Nate sat down in Dave’s chair.

“What the? Nate?” said Marcel. Everyone else swore at their cameras.

“What have you done to Dave?” said Jared.

“Knocked him out cold,” said Nate. He was puffing, catching his breath, running one hand through his hair and putting his phone to his ear with the other. “One second guys.”

He walked to where they couldn’t hear him call the station.

“One man intervention,” said Doug.

“Did he have to hit him?” said Marcel.

“He wasn’t around when he said he wasn’t going to shoot himself,” said Bradly.

Nate reappeared with a roll of a duct tape.

“What are you doing, Nate,” said Marcel, leaning in closer to his screen like it might give him a clearer view.

“One second.” He disappeared again.

Time passes.

It only took a moment to wrap Dave’s wrists and ankles with tape. He returned to the table and the open laptop. The cavalry was going to be here any minute.

“How could you do that to Dave?” said Jared. “He wasn’t going to shoot himself.”

“Not himself,” said Nate. He took a breath. How to explain it? “Only six cyclists had been reported missing.”

“That’s what I heard,” said Bradly.

“That’s what everyone heard,” said Nate. He could hear sirens approaching. “But there were actually eight. Did you notice the handlebars behind him? The guy never rode bike.”

“Dave said eight,” said Bradly. “And he loaded eight bullets into that magazine. I was counting. It can hold seventeen. They might still be alive.”