The bags chinked and crackled against the metal coils as they were inserted rhythmically, efficiently into the vending machine. Irving made it a point to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Luckily now all the vending machines were digital and took credit card or PayPal so he didn't have to empty any cash boxes or refill the change box. Marco stood silently guard a few feet away. He would look from side to side, confidently, his hand resting over the large gun slung around his larger chest. Irving was glad he had the more physically demanding tasking of refilling. If he guarded, he would likely sweat through his shirt and not look appropriately confident or dangerous, and that would just invite trouble.
"Almost done?" said Marco glancing over his shoulder at Irving.
"Just one more row man," said Irving.
"Could you hurry it up?" said Marco.
"I'm going as fast as I can," said Irving.
"Speed it up. We got a patron who looks like he can't wait."
"What?" Irving paused and looked back. A toothless stringy man bobbed from foot to foot a few yards away. "Oh, geez."
"Don't stop," whispered Marco. "I don't want to have to plug this guy."
"Yeah, yeah," said Irving. He suddenly felt hot. His fingers shook as he plucked bags from the cardboard boxes and deposited them in the coils.
"These animals smell fear," said Marco.
"I'm not an animal," said the stringy man.
"Then back up a few feet, dude," said Marco.
"I have every right to be right here, just like you," said the man.
"Sure you do," said Marco.
"Don't you make fun of me!" screamed the man.
"It's all right dude, I just don't want no trouble," said Marco. "You'll get your fix in a few minutes, just hold on."
"I wish I didn't have to," said the man. "I wish I never saw that machine." There was a commiserating murmur from the waiting crowd. Irving briefly looked around. There were a lot of them. Shabby skinny toothless people in tattered, nasty-dirty vestments, adults and kids, all google-eyed and staring at Irving's hands, following them hungrily from box to vending machine. Finally he reached the last bag in the last box and put it in a bottom coil.
"Done," said Irving. He stood up, shuffled the empty boxes onto his dolly, and reached for the door to the machine. A hand grabbed his wrist and twisted. "Aaah!"
"Get off him!" yelled Marco.
"No!" said a woman, the owner of the hand. "I'm not paying for this anymore! It's not right! I'm taking what's mine!" She pulled Irving to the ground with inhuman strength.
"Get off me!" screamed Irving. Brrrraaaaapp-brap. The woman flew back from Irving, and crunched, lifeless, to the ground. Irving scrambled up quickly, and stood frozen next to the vending machine. The customers looked angry and uncertain.
"Close the door Irving," said Marco calmly.
"Yeah, yeah," said Irving. He reached for the door and pulled it closed, locking it with a loud thud.
"We're leaving now," said Marco to the crowd.
"Screw you!" said someone in the back of the crowd. "We ain't paying!"
"They got more in the truck," said someone else. Marco and Irving had more deliveries that day, so their armored truck was still more full of filled boxes than empty boxes.
"Let's get the truck," said another.
"Stay back," said Marco. "If you got a complaint with the prices, call corporate. We don't have nothing to do with that."
"We don't care about you," said the stringy man. "You're incidental."
BRAAAAAAAP! Marco shot into the air.
"Consider that a warning. Make a move towards that truck or us, and I'll mow you down."
"You can't do that and get away with it. We're still human!" said a woman with a half-dead looking infant hanging limply from her arms.
"Not really," said Marco, "and it's not illegal to kill one of your kind. So back up!" No one moved.
"Let's not antagonize them," said Irving. He quickly packed the boxes and piled them haphazardly on the dolly.
"Yeah," whispered Marco. "I shoulda never opened my mouth. Never turns out well."
Suddenly a man lunged for the truck, and hit it shoulder first. He grunted and collapsed on the ground. Then the crowd closed in on the truck, rocking it back and forth. It all happened in a matter of seconds.
BRAAAP-BRAAAP-BRAAP-BRAAAAAAAAAP Marco shot into the air again. No one in the crowd seemed to notice.
"Scatter if you value your lives!" screamed Marco. His face was flushed, and the veins in his thick, muscular neck stood out.
"We haven't got a chance. Let's just run for it," said Irving.
BRAAAP-BRAAAP-BRAAAAAAP-BRAAAAAAP-BRAAAAAAP This time Marco shot at the crowd. Emaciated men, women, and children dropped like wooden marionettes relieved of their masters. The crowd noticed now, and turned from the truck towards Marco.
"No man! Let's run for it!" said Irving.
"Bastards! You're gonna get what's coming to you!" Marco pulled the trigger again. Irving ran in the other direction. The customers took almost no notice of him, and instead were fixated on the strapping Marco, a Mad Hatter with a machine gun strafing the crowd.
Irving only had to run to the next block before he heard Marco's guttural screams. He imagined him down on the ground, being plucked apart by the crowd, being eaten, because that's what they did when they didn't get their drugs on time. Irving unzipped his jacket with the company logo emblazoned on the back. He threw it to the ground and kept running. The screams would have drawn dozens more by now, attracted by fresh blood and a clean meal. The cold air was refreshing but his chest started to hurt. As nervous as he was, in general, and as useless as he was in a fight, he wasn't used to flight. He slowed to a jog, looking furtively around.
This part of the city was unclean; it was fully tainted by the effects of the product he helped to sell. It was a drug used to ameliorate the effects of poverty. It satiated the feeling of hunger. It made the user satisfied with even the most menial and demeaning work. It generally killed libido so the poor would stop reproducing so quickly. It also made most pregnancies unviable, and those babies born addicted to it were unhealthy and didn't live long. It changed their bodies too. All the calories they did ingest went straight to the building of sinewy muscle. A man on the drug had enough strength to snap a human femur in a matter of seconds. And they didn't really care where their calories came from. They had a form of pica, where they would chip away at the walls in their dingy tenement apartments, eating chalk from drywall, and washing hunks of fiberglass insulation down with dirty water. They would cook up rats, and fry cockroaches in rat fat. If someone in their family became sick, they'd carve up that individual and have a real feast. They didn't care.
Irving slowed to a quick walk. No one took notice of him. The people who were out shuffled towards the truck. Irving headed for the gate. He punched in his security code, and the gate slowly slide open. He ran out to freedom, and decided to quit his job.