Due to the vagaries of chance this day also happened to be the thirtieth anniversary of an event that had forced three things upon the world and, by extension, the three old men slouched in the dining room. The final instalment of those seemingly never ending Middle Eastern wars, or bitch-slaps as Chet scathingly described them, had resulted in the total destruction of the two largest remaining oil fields in the world by way of a carefully positioned and exceptionally dirty nuclear device. Who had perpetrated such a heinous act, and why, was still being hotly debated. Certainly someone had benefited, but thus far nobody had claimed credit.
This situation had been further exacerbated by the still-volatile standoff at the Polar Regions. Numerous countries vociferously claimed territory by the most tenuous of connections, while others had augmented their own with mumbled threats of nuclear Armageddon. Fortunately, memories of the last incident and the terror of yet more untold devastation had prevented any mining of the anticipated vastness of the oil and gas fields to be found below. This ongoing conflict was still being waged within the famously sluggish bureaucracy of the United Nations, with the result that increasingly less of the crucial bounty was finding its way onto the planet’s countless thirsty markets.
As expected, and almost overnight, the price of gasoline had soared far beyond the pocket of the average man. It had been agonisingly expensive for years due to its scarcity and a policy of certain foreign cartels of maintaining unnaturally high premiums. Yet even this might not have sounded the death knell for the private automobile until several disparate factors had come into play. An unfortunate flirtation with hydrogen powered cars by a small and now defunct company, in a now entirely defunct state had been one. Bad enough but not disastrous. However the failure to consider the importance of research into the potential effect of several million discarded electric car batteries beneath the mid-west’s several thousand bio-fuel farms had effectively sealed their combined fate. All this allied to the ever-growing global warming lobby, had presaged the final demise of the internal combustion engine for all but government and military purposes.
In fact, apart from the several million rusted hulks populating the world’s junk yards, daily travel in private automobiles was little more than a fondly remembered but now distant memory. These days the men along with almost the rest of the country’s population availed themselves of countless sinuous electric trams that plied their almost silent way through the streets. A nominal fee of one dollar per person, per trip, made it an affective and extremely cost effective mode of transportation.
Even Chet, ready at any time to bemoan the fate of his old Chevy, was content to live without the threat of imminent death from the few remaining homicidal maniacs who had found ever more ingenious, which is to say more lethal, concoctions for powering their obsolete trophies. That menace aside death itself had become somewhat of rarely seen stranger. And thanks to the new generation of Taser-type weapons even the police no longer carried the means of lethal capability, much to the silent gratitude of Chet and Amon.
The second and slightly less important event in the drawing together of the three men was the end of Chet’s lifelong army career. An untimely inhalation of mustard gas during one of the aforementioned wars had resulted in his medical discharge. Even though the immediate and potentially lethal effects had been nullified by the efforts of a nearby medic, the army had not missed the opportunity to rid itself of someone whose career was, to say the least, heavily blotted.
The unusual and continually boisterous behaviour of the three friends, much to the everlasting chagrin of Mrs Weintraub, the Chief Administrator of the retirement home, was the indirect result of a passing drug company representative almost three years previously. After literally stumbling over three apparently drunken men playing Strip Gin and assuming, correctly according to Mrs Weintraub, that it was an institution for the marginally retarded; he had made them, and subsequently the management an offer they simply could not refuse. In return for indefinitely trialling a new drug and recording its potentially myriad side effects, the pharmaceutical company would take over the state’s contribution and pay for the three men’s permanent residence at the guest home and also afford them a modest pension. Some might have claimed that a test group of three was hardly representative, but perhaps such an enterprising drug company representative might subsequently have visited every retirement home in the state, of which there were several thousand
Regardless, the administrating company of the institution who, incidentally, owned most of the retirement homes in the state had naturally snapped up a guaranteed income for an indefinite period. And if the aforementioned three old men were occasionally ‘trying’, then it was up to Mrs Weintraub to deal with them.
Thus it was that once a week they took their medicine - although not the kind Mrs Weintraub would have liked to administer. And every week filled out the same check-lists, barely attempting to conceal the fact that they had been mass produced by Abe for the whole year, to prove the efficacy of the drug, appropriately named Longevitax. Unfortunately for the three its initial side-effects were unpleasant in the extreme and the resultant day of diarrhoea and nausea were difficult, especially when one knew that little could be done about it without spoiling the results of the prolonged test. And further that alcohol was permanently forbidden on pain of losing the free ride upon which they had all so happily stumbled.
Similarly, one side effect of the drug that the agent had not known about (or perhaps he had) was that all pre-existing ailments would continue unabated. However this was no obstacle to the men who had no intention of ever dying. Four score and ten had just been Chet’s starting point - and what did a few bleeding piles matter?
As to whether this new miracle drug did or did not prolong the life of its users was unknown as yet, but without a doubt it definitely did, according to Mrs Weintraub, contain something that transformed supposedly grown men into moronic delinquents. For the three, however, although the medication had not produced the miracle of instant youth, they had begrudgingly admitted a distinct improvement in their collective health. Not that any of them could have sprinted the hundred in under a minute, but even Chet, ready and eager to complain at the drop of a hat, had professed to feeling like a new man. Or if not new, then at least one whose joints didn’t crack like castanets every time he rose from his seat or dared lift anything heavier than a beer glass.
It was the day after their last dose and only now were they just beginning to recover their strength.
‘Did you scope that new management trainee?’ Amon’s face creased into an approximation of a leer, simultaneously luring the young innocent into a quite disgusting scene in his mind, ‘I could give her what she needs.’
‘You?’ Chet coughed through a lungful of smoke, ‘The last time your weenie saw any action was when the nurse told you to cough and turn your head.’
‘Yeah right. Hark at Super Stud.’ Given Chet’s obviously fragile state Amon was feeling brave, besides, Abe was there and would provide, temporarily at least, some protection, ‘Cut the finger off a rubber glove and you still wouldn’t get a tight fit.’ Chet was warm and moderately comfortable, so let that one go, but he would remember. A callused and nicotine stained middle finger was his only response.
‘So what are we going to do today?’ Abe asked quickly, assuming his usual responsibility almost unconsciously. He didn’t have the strength this morning to physically restrain Chet, and besides, he was afraid of making any sudden movement that might result in an accident down below.
‘Don’t know about you two but I’m still pebble-dashing the john.’ Amon muttered, to the revolted groan of a passing restaurant worker. Ignoring her he busily returned to the mounting pile of skin he was shaving from his heels, a monthly act that had, as expected, provoked several dozen other guests to flee in disgust while carefully avoiding, an invisible but apparently tangible demarcation line of at least four table lengths from the pariahs.
The pariahs in question had availed themselves of an uninterrupted view of the gardens through the electronically tinted wall length windows, which allowed them to spy but not be spied upon which was a positive boon on the increasingly rare occasion that any young woman was careless enough to walk within a hundred yards of Chet and Amon.
Chet smiled. His lethargy was quickly being replaced by humour due to a judicious application of medicinal bourbon.
‘I vote we go to the Exclusion Zone. After that tremor the other day there’s probably some stuff been forced onto the surface. We could sell it.’ Chet really had no need of money since most of what they needed was free within the retirement home but the chance of a quick profit never failed to set his blood racing
‘Are you crazy?’ Abe’s eyes shot open, appalled and simultaneously aggrieved at being wrenched so abruptly from the daydream of sentient computers he had been enjoying. ‘You know what happened to the fool who tried it last month.’
‘Yeah, but he was a jerk.’ Chet continued blithely, his strength returning at a satisfying rate. ‘He was using a sledge hammer to break in.’
‘They found the poor sap with about twenty tons of masonry on his head.’ added Amon, as ever the enemy of the unlucky or just plain stupid. ‘I think his name was Barney Rubble.’ He cackled, amused by his own peculiar version of humour.
‘You know it’s illegal to go in there.’ Abe felt justified in sermonising at his friend’s patent foolishness. ‘They’ll put you away.’
‘Yeah, with all those cellblock queens.’ Amon grinned evilly, encouraged by Chet’s docility, and enchanted with a personal vision of someone attempting to sodomise his friend.
‘Anyone tries to stick something up my ass’ll be eating his balls for breakfast!’ Chet growled, scowling at anyone who just might have been looking his way.
A loud and familiar footfall echoed behind them. As always all further talk was immediately curtailed. The three paled, Chet especially. He turned slowly trying not to cringe. It was probably just an illusion but the sun seemed to dim for a moment. Mrs Weintraub had arrived. A low almost sub-aural murmur followed her passing as the other guests all turned unashamedly to stare perhaps in the combined hope that the day of retribution was finally at hand for the three. In her bulging forearms Mrs Weintraub bore the daily newspapers. Why she was performing this mundane task herself was a mystery since she rarely did any other job that a lesser mortal under her control could do for her.
Chet had once considered enquiring about a husband, though not his incredulity as to who would actually marry her. Equally as tall as Chet, even with her jet black hair wrenched back and imprisoned by a large steel pin with the approximate dimensions of a railroad spike, she weighed about the same, but unlike Chet very little of it appeared to be fat, as viewed under the severe black trouser suit through which enormously muscled thighs pressed furiously. And the fact that she was about forty years younger than he encouraged even more caution in his dealings with her.
It went without saying that she had caught a snippet of their conversation. This incredible prowess had been a positive necessity when dealing with the over aged louts she frequently proclaimed them all to be. Dark, almost eternally angry eyes glared fiercely downwards while enormous breasts squirmed beneath the white silk shirt she habitually wore, as if eager to escape and slaughter the objects of her loathing themselves. Mrs Weintraub took no truck from anyone and today was to be no exception.
Towering over the table; her moustache bristled with barely subdued fury. Abe resisted the urge to wince and bade her good morning. Ignoring him she launched straight into them all.
‘Did I hear you say something about the Exclusion Zone?’ Her neck seemed to stretch and twist simultaneously, somehow allowing her to stare at them all face to face in the same instant. Her question was rhetorical since she knew none of them would admit to it.
‘You’re nothing but a pack of retarded children. You all know it’s dangerous there! Don’t let me hear any more about it or there’ll be trouble. I’ll have you all out on the street in a second!’ This staccato invective thundered over them in less than four seconds, plunging all within earshot into a netherworld of terror, since anyone who could shout forty six words with one breathe was obviously not to be trifled with. She fixed them all with a laser-like glare, daring them to so much as breathe.
They denied her the pleasure, silent before the next onslaught. Especially Chet; no matter what he might threaten after her departure, he was no fool. Throwing all the papers on the table save one, she advanced upon Abe who, with an inward grimace waited fearfully, listlessly toying with a charred memory chip which had spectacularly exploded as a result of his latest disastrous computer program. Mrs Weintraub’s severe features softened perceptibly. Almost reverently, she handed him a publication, shrunken to insignificance by a huge fist.
‘I found a copy of that computer magazine you like, Abe.’ As usual Abe reddened; once more a schoolboy and not an eighty something year old man. Every person in the home was aware of her inexplicable feelings towards him even though he had neither instigated nor ever returned them. She smiled warmly, the bulging arteries criss-crossing her forehead almost disappearing as he sat, frozen like a deer before the headlights of an approaching juggernaut. Ignoring the others she placed it gently before him. He muttered his thanks, at the same time waiting for Chet, fully aware that he wouldn’t miss out on this opportunity the very instant she was safely out of earshot.
‘You. Get those feet covered up!’ She snarled, a hair’s breadth from Amon’s white and terrified face. ‘And for God’s sake, wipe your head, or better still have it amputated. ‘And you!’ her head swivelled faster than the syllables could leave her mouth, ‘Put out that cigarette, before I rip it out of your face!’ The smouldering filter wobbled precariously on Chet’s lip, cascading almost an inch of hot ash directly into his crotch. After incinerating them both with one final scowl she stalked away. Absently rubbing at his burnt pants, Chet scowled at her receding girth. Whatever anyone said to the contrary, he had no doubt who had been responsible for shoving the smouldering tissue box laden with what had smelt suspiciously like nail polish remover tightly against their collective doors.
‘I wouldn’t.’ Amon said to his uncurling middle finger, ‘She’ll bite it off.’ Now that his own imminent mutilation had been postponed once more he sniffed, turning back to his foot with gusto and a nervous release of flatulence her presence always generated within him.
‘Oh Aby-poos,’ Chet began on cue in his cracked falsetto version of the administrator’s voice, though after prudently waiting for the flatulent hiss of the air controlled door first, ‘I found your little magaziny-poos.’ He laughed a wheezy first-cigarette-of-the-day cackle.