Role Models of Densen's Corner Market
Monday, September 5, 2059 8:53 AM
Arthur Denson smothered a yawn as he totaled up old Mrs. Melver's purchase. It came to twenty-five nuyen exactly, just as it always had for the last twenty years since he took over the store from his father.
"Are you all right, dear?" the old woman asked as he handed her the bag.
He grinned sheepishly. Thirty-eight and she still calls me dear. Well, what else can you expect from a woman who knew Elvis? "Just a little tired. You know that docudrama about shadowrunners that was on last night?"
She sniffed and shook her head. "I don't watch much trid."
"Oh. Well, Tim - you remember my son, Tim? - is obsessed. He insisted on staying up to watch it."
The old woman laughed. "Don't worry, it's just a phase. He'll grow out of it soon enough."
"I hope so. Have a good day."
"You too. Give my regards to the family." She headed for the door, pausing as a black elf outside wrenched it open. Both hesitated for a second, then the elf stepped back and held the door with a flourish. With a brittle smile of thanks, she fled.
"Ye gods, I thought that old hag would be dead by now," the elf commented when he was in the safety of the store.
Art snorted. "Marcus, please. She's a good customer and a nice old woman."
"Old being the keyword." At the store-owner's glare, he held up his hands in self defense. "Ok, ok, I'm sorry. Can I still shop here?"
Art laughed. It was either his convenience store or a fifteen minute drive before the next store, which was a corporate Super Shopper anyways. This w as no longer a 'decent' neighborhood, but Densen's Corner Market was all that stood between the current run-down feel and actually joining the Barrens. Combined with his blind eye towards the street kids' occasional theft of candy, his wife's position as a doctor, and the unofficial status as neutral territory for the gangs in the area, he didn't make much of a profit, but everyone came here and were, if not friends, then good neighbors.
"Yes, you can shop here," he told the elf, laughing at his mocking grovels of thanks. Normal days were slow, slightly boring, and absolutely wonderful. He might not be rich, but he was happy. If this isn't the good life, I don't wanna know what that is.
Thursday, September 23, 2059 5:05 PM
The dingle bell on the door announced new arrivals. Art looked up from the inventory check he was doing with Hank, this week's assistant from the gangs. The orc had been chosen for his ability to do math like he had an inner calculator, even if his reading skills were about par with seven-year-old Tim.
The newcomers were two kids who were painfully obvious about belonging to a gang, even if Art wasn't sure which one used red and blue sleeves on jackets and mohawks. The smaller one was a male human with just about pierced everything, and the other was an ugly troll of uncertain gender and intelligence.
"Hoi, Pops," the metal-studded kid announced, moving to lean on the counter while his buddy drifted towards the shelf of candy.
"Afternoon," Art answered cautiously.
"Nice little place ya got here."
Oh. Drek. "Thanks. Can I help you find something?"
"Act'lly, we waz just admirin' the place. And ya know, it'd be a real pity if anythin' should happen to it, if ya know what I mean."
"You're trying to run a protection racket." By now all the customers had sensed brewing trouble and fled. Hank had come around the counter to glare at the troll.
The spokes-kid dropped his jaw in mock surprise. "I'm offended you'd even think'a somethin' like that! We wouldn't be doin' that, now would we?"
"You can't do that here!" Hank snarled. "It's neutral!"
The punk laughed as his friend punched the orc, sending him to the floor. "And who's gonna stop us?" He spit with surprising accuracy, hitting the skull in flames patch on Hank's jacket. "Big badass Blazing Skulls? They got bigger problems, bunky." He turned back to Art. "Lissen up, pops. We're in charge now. An' that means a hundred nuyen a week an' half off what we buy. Got it?"
"I can't afford that. I got two kids - "
"That it would be a shame to see hurt. Find a way." With that, the punks turned and left.
"They can't do that!" Hank insisted, rising from the floor, wiping blood from his face.
"Are you sure?" Art asked softly, handing him a paper towel.
The orc hesitated. "No," he finally said. "I needta check wit my chummers."
Art nodded. "You do that. I'll close up early. I'm... not really in the mood to deal with more people." Hank waved goodbye and ran out, leaving Art to slump against the counter and sigh. This is bad.
"They shouldn't be able to do that."
His head jerked up to see Marcus standing before him, quivering and glaring at the door. "Geeze, I didn't even notice you. What're you doing here?"
"Dad! Hey Daaad!" A young boy raced in, a blur of pointed ears and Shadow Runnerz (TM) t-shirt, sneakers, and jacket.After nearly ramming into the counter, the young elf finally appeared to notice the customer. "Oops."
Art sighed and gave Marcus an apologetic glance. "What is it, Tim?"
"Sorry Dad, but Mom got called in 'cause somethin' big an' nasty happened at the park. She told me to tell you that she'll just spend the night."
Wonderful. As if I didn't have enough problems."All right," he sighed, "go on home. I'll be back in twenty minutes, tops." Tim nodded and raced towards the door.
"Hey kid, nice shirt," Marcus called.
Tim skidded to a stop. "Ya think so?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Watched a few episodes. It's pretty...neat." The hesitation was almost unnoticeable.
Tim's face lit up with the clear joy of a fanatic. "The Pack rules! I'm gonna be just like them when I grow up!"
Oh lordy. We have to have another talk soon. "Now Tim, I thought we went over this already - "
The boy sighed and rolled his eyes. " 'Real shadowrunners are crooks and violent psychopaths. The good guys are just on the trid.' Yeah, yeah, I know. I've only heard it a million times."
Marcus laughed, a strange expression flitting across his face. "Yer dad might not know everything." Catching a warning look from Art, the elf hastily added, "but you might want to think of a different line of work. Shadowrunning is a very dangerous business."
"But it's cool!"
He caught the rising note of warning. "Yes Dad. I'm going. Bye, mister."
When the door slammed shut, Art coughed. "So. What can I get for you?" The strain made the question a mockery of normalcy.
The elf's attention had moved to the door. "I was going to pick up some Nukeovers, but then I realized I had..." again, a barely perceptible pause, " a business meeting with some rather unpleasant people. I'm suddenly not hungry." He finally snapped out the odd, almost-trance. "So I'll just come back tomorrow."
"If things are still here."
Marcus laughed. "I'm sure they will be." He turned and left, moving before Art could notice the peculiar glint in his eyes.
Mentally drained and too worried to think logically, Art closed up the store and headed home. He spent most of a sleepless night tossing in his lonely bed, probing at his predicament like a devil rat chewing at a rubber ball. When he finally slept, his dreams were filled with the vague, disturbing images of shots in the dark, brutal fistfights, and blood.
Friday, September 24, 2059 6:50 AM
"Oh, God." The damage wasn't that bad, really. "Drek." The front door was smashed, scattered plasti-glass shards decorating the sidewalk, and the roll-up metal shutters protecting the windows had some obscene graffiti, but nothing that couldn't be fixed. "Why me?" Art stumbled to the door, unlocking it and dragging it open, kicking the dingle bell across the floor.
The inside was also relatively sane, if one ignored the cans of tomato juice and dried soycaff that decorated the floor. Only two shelves had been pushed over, and the faint traces of burn marks on the wall were hardly noticeable. The cash register was even untouched.
Art was almost offended. He expected more damage, even by those two-yen rate rejects who'd visited.
"What a mess." The storeowner was too shell-shocked to be surprised that Marcus had shown up again.
"No kidding. But I thought it would be worse...."
"Be grateful it isn't. And that you have two helpers to clean up. Speaking of which, I'd like you to meet my friend, T- uh... "
"Kyle," a tall, brawny man with a beak of a nose and short, spiky brown hair said, gliding smoothly forward to shake hands. Art didn't notice the elf mouthing "Kyle?" to himself with a bemused smirk.
"Hoi. You picked one slitch of a day to play good Samaritan."
Kyle snickered. "Whatever Mark said, I expect at least one cold beer for working. I don't do nothing for free."
This bit of good natured, modern self-interest killed off the last of Art's shock. He laughed. "Hell, I'll give you both a six-pack if you hang around."
Marcus cracked his knuckles. "So what're we waiting for?"
With a concentrated effort on the trio's part, the store was looking almost like normal within 2 hours. Kyle was outside, tossing the last of the ruined goods into the dumpster, while Marcus was restocking the shelves, and Art was finally getting around to the cash register. He froze upon opening the cash drawer. He had emptied it last night. He knew he had. But sitting in the middle was a white wrapped cylinder.
With shaking hands, he removed the paper covering, revealing two credsticks. They seemed perfectly normal, straight from the bank, except the values indicated on the sides would send both his kids through college, with more than enough left over to get... well, something pretty fragging expensive. It took him a bit to notice the writing on the paper.
Sorry for the mess, but it was either make things a bit messy or let the extortionists do some real damage. Hope this covers everything. Oh, and don't worry about them coming back. They've been warned that anti-social behavior in this neighborhood is unwise. Have a nice day!
Your friendly neighborhood shadowrunners,
Chameleon and Falcon
"Shadowrunners?" Art repeated incredulously. Yeah right! Shadowrunners are gonna name themselves after petting zoo rejects, then come in here and leave a fortune just to beat up a few punks?
"Uh, nothing. Just... some sort of practical joke. Hey, thanks again for the help. You still want that six-pack?"
Marcus snorted. "Is Dunkelzahn dead?"
Friday, September 24, 2059 7:20 PM
"Hoi Dad!" Tim called, even before the door closed. "Anything interesting happen today?"
"Uh, nope. Can't say that it did." He sighed in relief when Tim bought it. Thank god. I don't need him going on with this ridiculous obsession, and if he heard - I don't want to think about it. Better to just tell him about how Marcus and Kyle helped out. Now THERE are some people to look up to. Decent, law-abiding people that are willing to lend a hand, not some sort of Uzi toting psychopaths. He snorted in amusement at the thought of Marcus carrying around some of the guns he saw on Tim's TV shows. Right. And Dunkelzahn wasn't murdered, either.
©1999, Norcumi - used with permission