Friday, June 13, 2014

NGHT'S FAVOUR by Richard Parry @TactualRain #AmReading #Thriller #Fantasy

“I’m still sweating.”  Val pulled his wet shirt away from his skin.  Much as he had to admit that transparent shirts on a fat guy looked bad, he’d carried his jacket rather than putting it on.  A light breeze was nudging against the fabric.  “I thought a cold shower after the gym would help.  This isn’t selling it for me.”
“That’s a mark of pride, buddy.  Just don’t get too close to me.”  John grimaced.  “Did you use deodorant?”
“Wait.  I can’t remember.”  Val sniffed under his arms.  “Yeah.  Smells like Axe.  I’ll probably sweat it off, but my intentions were pure.”
“No doubt.  You did good today.  Really good.”  John seemed distracted — he wasn’t checking out the women on the street, and he wasn’t really paying attention to where he was walking.  His phone had rung a couple of times, and he’d just ignored it.  John, the man whose digits were in more single women’s phones than anyone else alive, was ignoring his phone.
It was uncanny.
“You don’t sound like I did good.  You sound like we’re discussing my funeral.”  When he’d been a kid, Val had come off his bike.  He’d fallen a long way down a bank, rolling a couple times before the bike had caught up with him.  The tumbled images of earth and sky along with the taste of green grass and dirt in his mouth stayed with him.  He remembered the clank of the bike following him down, banging its way through the brush.  He’d wrenched his shoulder pretty badly.  Nothing serious, the doctor had said.  Rest it, it’ll be fine.  They say you don’t remember pain, but he swore this felt the same.  Wincing, he rubbed his shoulder.  “Damn.”
“Well, shit.  Ok.  Give me a minute.  I think I need to break this down for you.”  John continued on a few more paces, then stopped.  A couple of women almost walked into him, veering at the last minute.  One gave him a look over her shoulder as she passed.  He didn’t even notice.  “Look.  So you benched a lot today.”
“Dude, you just got a hair flick.”
“What?”  John looked around, but she was long gone.  “Was she hot?”
“I dunno.  I guess.  It felt like a lot.  Man, I’ve never hurt this bad.”  A memory came, stark against the mundane street around him.  She’d been bleeding so bad.  He could remember that damn headlight shining in his face through her shattered passenger window.  “Except maybe after the accident.”
John didn’t seem to notice the reference, focused on something different.  “Do you know how much is, ‘A lot?’”
“I dunno.  You said it was more than you could bench, but I figured that for a sort of motivational speech.  So I guess maybe less than you, sure, but a lot, right?”
John just stared at him.
“What?  Man, say something.”  Val looked around the street.  “What!”
“Ok, stupid, we’ll play it your way.  Today, you benched around six hundred and fifty pounds.  Maybe a bit more, a bit less.”  John slapped the mixed roll of cash his back pocket.  “It’s what’s buying the beers tonight.  That six fifty press.”
“I guess that sounds like a lot.  But it’s all Smurfberries to me.”  Something else was hurting in his back.  Val arched, trying to work the kink out.  This is why exercise isn’t more popular — it hurts too damn much.  You could read it in the papers: man killed riding a bike.  You never read about a man killed sitting on a couch.
“Smurfberries?  Are you on coke?”  John looked him in the eye.  “You can tell me.”
Val snorted.  “I’ve only got a thirst for Jack.  There’s this iPhone app, Smurf Village.”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“Give me a sec.  I’m trying to play your six fifty pounds game.  Trying to get it in my head, ok?  So in this app —”
“Smurf Village.”
“You got it.  In Smurf Village, you can build houses, go fishing, whatever.  I don’t know, bang Smurfette, whatever you want.”  Val frowned.  “Ok maybe not that, it’s for kids.  But the game’s free, except it’s not.”
“Smurfette’s a hooker, right?”
“You’re on the right track John, but it’s a kid’s game for fuck’s sake.  You need to work that out somehow, it’s creepy.  You can play the game, but you can sort of… I don’t know, incentivise your Smurfs.  Buy them Smurfberries.  And Smurfberries come right off your Mastercard.”
“So what’s a Smurfberry get me?”
Val clapped his hands together.  “Exactly.  We know how much a Smurfberry costs, because those thieving bastards charge your Mastercard for them.  But before you go in, before little Johnny —”
John winced.  “Jemima, please.”
“Sure.”  Val nodded.  “Before little Jemima gets hooked on the game crack that Smurf Village is, you’ve no clue as a consenting parent what a Smurfberry costs.  So when Jemima comes in and bothers you in front of the big game, asking for twenty bucks for some more Smurfberries, what do you do?”
“I dunno.”  John rubbed his chin.  “The big game.  Is it half time?  Does she leave me alone for another half hour?  I might pay twenty bucks for that.”
“Sure you might.  But that’s the thing.  You just don’t know.  It’s like any other arbitrary measurement, like —”  Val waved his hands in the air.  “Like, I guess, a megawatt hour, or a megabyte maybe.”
“I know what a megabyte is.  I work in a gym, but I’m not prehistoric.”
“Ok wise guy.  What’s a megabyte?”
“It’s, well…”  John trailed off, then tried to man up to the challenge.  “It’s a bunch of emails.”
“How many?”
“A lot?”
“Is six hundred and fifty pounds a lot?”
“You fucker.”
Val nodded.  “You see, I know what a megabyte is, and I might even be able to work out what a Smurfberry is worth.  I know cheese comes in pounds.  I can maybe imagine a six fifty pile of cheese, but I don’t know.  Is that a lot?”
“Seriously, you’re an asshole.”  John turned away and started checking out the talent, looking for the next hair flick.
Val dragged him back with a pat on the shoulder.  “Can an ordinary dude lift six fifty pounds worth of cheese?  I mean, it’s not something I’ve tried.”
“Fair enough.  Ok.  You got me.”  John walked on a few more paces.  “Here we go.  You know a guy called Scot Mendelson?”
“Does he work with you?”
“I wish.  Scot holds the current world record for the raw bench.”
“Raw?”  It’d been a while since meals.  “Like, uncooked?”
“Raw, like unassisted.”
Val gave John a blank look.  “How can you assist a guy on the bench?  Are there two guys pushing up?  One pulling from above?”
“It’s not important.  Well, it’s a little bit important, because you strap on a special shirt, and you can lift more.  But the raw bench is where it’s at, ok?”  John watched a woman walk past, head tracking as she sashayed past him.  “Ah.  So Scot, he’s the world record holder.”
“I know you’re dying to tell me.  What’s his record?  A thousand?”
“Not even close.  You need to think much, much lower.”
“Eight hundred?  We can play this game all day.  You should just tell me, since I made you famous on YouTube today.”
“We should probably get you a beer first.  Make sure you’re sitting down.”  John patted the wad of cash in his pocket again.  “You’re going to need to be lubricated for this one.”
“Now you’re scaring me.  What’s his fucking record?”
“Seven hundred.”  John paused, every so slightly — damn drama queen.  “And one.  Seven oh one pounds.  Dude’s been powerlifting his whole life, he’s a real significant piece of machinery, and he benches just fifty pounds more than you.”
Val stopped so suddenly the guy behind him on the sidewalk walked right into the back of him.  He turned and stared at John.  “You’re just trying to make me feel better for hurling at the gym.”
“I’m really not.  I had to clean that up.”  John rubbed the designer stubble on his jaw.  “Look, you did an amazing thing today.  Really, truly amazing.  So amazing, you shouldn’t have been able to do it.  I’m sort of impressed, but I’m wondering when the guy from Candid Camera is going to come out and have me on.  What you did, well, it’s a bit like the Coyote finally catching the Road Runner.  It breaks all the rules.”
Val laughed, a slightly weak and hysterical sound.  “You know me.  I just keep breaking rules.”  He swayed a little, then leaned against a parking meter.
John slapped him on the arm.  “It’s ok man.  You did good.  I just — I just can’t really believe it.  Even now.  I think I need that beer more than you do.”
“There’s one thing I don’t get.”
“Just one thing?  What is it?”
“Your friend, the guy who was there?”
“Emilio?”
“Sure, I guess.  Why’d he back me to six fifty?”
“Emilio’s crazy.”
“He bet a hundred bucks — our drinking money — that I’d bench six fifty.  Just fifty shy of Scot Wosshisname’s record.”  Val stared into the sky for a second, then back to John.  “If I was a judge of character, I reckon Emilio’s rigged this.”
“Maybe.  He’s coming down to drink with us tonight, so you can ask him then.  Since we’re sharing though, there’s one thing that I don’t get.”
Val stood up, pushing his bulk away from the parking meter.  “What?  I’m really thirsty.  It’s kind of inhumane keeping me out here like this.”
“How do you know what a Smurfberry is?”
Val chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment.  “That can’t be what you want to know.”
“No, I really want to know.  You’ve got no kids —”  And there was that damn memory again, burning as bright as the headlight through the shattered passenger window.  Rebekah was looking right at him, grasping his arm.  She was begging him to not leave her, What about the baby, she’d said.  “— But you know what a Smurfberry is.”
Val shook off the memory.  Just a dead relic.  “Let’s get that beer.”

Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early. One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit? And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?
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Genre – Action, Thriller, Urban Fantasy
Rating – R16
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