Looked at financially, the arcade had been a massive money-spinner. From the days of Atari Pong through Pac Man to the twenty-five grand Tomb Raiders II, punters had poured in. Then came the meteorite, and the arcades, along with seven billion people, had been wiped out.
Now Sam stood at one of the only games that still functioned, a nineteen-seventies’ Space Invaders, attempting to zap the red spacecraft whizzing above the rows of aliens dropping bombs on his base. Bom-bom-bom-bom, faster and faster. “Damn!” His last laser canon was hit. Game over. He looked past the rows of sand-blown, soulless machines out to the desert. “Walt, pour me a drink,” he called.
Walter stopped his task of endlessly wiping the same glasses. “What’ll you have, Boss?”
“I dunno, lager, what’ve we got?”
Walter laughed. “We’ve got Red Stripe or … uh, Red Stripe.”
Sam grimaced and spat onto the sand. “I guess I’ll have Red Stripe then. Don’t they ever bring nothin’ else?”
Walter ran a hand over his chin, bristling with two days’ white beard growth. “There ain’t many breweries still workin’, you know that, Boss.” He turned a tap and golden liquid ran smoothly into a long glass.
Sam walked across the sandy floor and took it, leaning his tawny, leathery face back and letting the nectar slide down his throat. The arcade hall swam and he felt better. “Say, Walt, I got news for you, boy.”
“We’re gettin’ us a visit from the environmental health, can you believe?”
“Yeah, what’s left of the council’s decided to clamp down on the unlicensed stuff that’s goin’ on around here, and for the legit folks – like us – they’re lookin’ to make examples of us, to scare the rest of ‘em.”
“What! When’re they comin’?”
“Friday, so gives you time to get that bar spotless and Norman to sort his burgers out, throw out them ones that are six months past their sell-by-dates!” Sam looked at the sand blowing in through the gates. He suddenly felt depressed. Hardly any punters nowadays, the odd passerby calling in for a game of Space Invaders, a dodgy burger and a pint of lager – Red Stripe as long as he could remember. And all the while the desert blew sand in their faces, encroaching little by little, piling up against walls, blowing in through windows and doors, filling what was once the local swimming pool, its shiny blue tiles now worn matt by the sand’s abrasion.
Estelle Davies gave a pearly-toothed smile. “Well, you know I’ve got enough here to shut you boys down?”
Sam looked at the attractive, slim woman in a smart suit. Where in hell’s name did they get her from? She could be earning five times what they must be paying her by lying on her back. “Come on, Ms. Davies, go easy on us, it’s hard to make a living out here, you know that.”
Ms. Davies put her crocodile-skin briefcase down and regarded the three of them. Sam, Norman and Walter. Her eyes flashed disdain below the mascara. Any one of them could be taken for a tramp! “Personally, I’m not interested. What interests me is poisoning people with out-of-date burgers and drinks where the lines aren’t cleaned and sterilised regularly.”
“We’ll do all that, Miss,” said Walter, rubbing a hand over his bristly old face.
Ms. Davies picked up her briefcase with red-painted nails. “I’ll give you one week. If it’s not done by then I’ll close you down. Q.E.D.”
“What?” said Walter.
Without looking at them again she turned and walked back to her Land Rover. “Quod Erat Demonstrandum!” Dust clouds rose as she began her eighty-mile journey back to Orgainsville.
“What we goin’ to do, Boss?” asked Norman. “We can’t get no supplies. She knows that.”
Sam took a snow globe from his pocket and shook it. “Well, boys, when she was in the bar I took the liberty of inspecting her fan belt.” Snow drifted down upon a lighted cottage and a snowman with a carrot for its nose. He held up a knife. “Reckon it’ll only last about … 40 miles.” He grinned, showing a tooth missing in the centre of his bottom row.
Norman looked shocked. “But, Boss, you know planes and choppers can’t fly in this air.”
Sam laughed, “Look, that woman represents this bullshit government. Anyway, she’s got legs ain’t she?”
There was the sound of a roaring engine and, from the other direction, a cloud of dust and sand.
“Look, Boss, I don’t believe it!” Walter exclaimed.
A tanker pulled up and they all looked in disbelief, then turned, laughing and high-fiving each other. Huge green letters spelt out CARLSBERG.
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