Joyland

Toronto |

The Warhol Gang: an excerpt

by Peter Darbyshire

Nickel takes everyone in the office on a corporate retreat for the day. We go to Gun World, an indoor shooting environment in the mall. It has theme ranges, where you can shoot at video targets projected on the walls, and a special counter where you can rent all the guns from the latest movies. At the checkout, Nickel tells us we can shoot as many people as we want but the company is paying for the first three clips of ammo only. I rent a handgun that the clerk tells me is the hottest thing in all the music videos right now, and then I go into the Inner City Warfare range. Reagan’s already there. He’s got an assault rifle. The video on the other wall shows a bank robbery in progress. Cops hide behind parked cars while gunmen in body armour drag hostages down the street. I didn’t know you could rent assault rifles. Now I want an assault rifle. Reagan sprays the wall on full-auto, emptying his clip without aiming. The screen flashes red where the bullets hit people. “You’re killing innocent people,” I point out. “What do you mean, ‘innocent’?” Reagan asks, reloading. “You know, people like us,” I say. Reagan just looks at me and then empties the new clip into a taxi full of screaming women. I consider going back to the rental counter to exchange the handgun for an assault rifle, but the video might be over by the time I return. I settle for shooting at people watching the street battle from office windows overhead, but I can’t seem to hit any of them. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I say to Reagan. He reloads again and opens fire on a traffic helicopter. “I wish I could do this in real life,” he says. “They’d kill you,” I say. He just nods. “What do you think I’m worth?” I ask him. He looks at me and then back at his gun. “I’m not really sure where you’re going with this,” he says, “but I’m not interested in workplace relationships.” “I meant insurance-wise,” I say. “Isn’t that what you did in your old job? Figured out what people were worth?” Reagan looks for a new clip in his bag on the floor, but it’s empty now. He sighs. “It depends on how you die,” he says. “How do most people die?” I ask him. On the screen, a gunman executes a man in a suit and tie with a shot to the back of the head. “Let’s say you’re on your way to the office,” Reagan says. “You take a revolving door in the mall. Only your tie gets caught in the frame as you exit. A faulty seal on the door. We later find out mall maintenance is aware of the problem but has done nothing to repair it. The door spins at high speed as the woman behind you is rushing through. She’s late for work. Your head is jerked to the side. Your neck is broken.” “Do people really die like that?” I ask. “Every day,” Reagan says. “That’s tragic,” I say. “That’s a statistic,” Reagan says. I shake my head. “Never mind. So what am I worth?” “I’d say a million dollars base for the incident,” Reagan says. “Not too hard to get given the negligence.” “I’m a millionaire,” I say. I fire several shots at a woman in a business suit trying to hide behind a flower stand. The screen finally flashes red for me. She keeps shrieking after I shoot her, but I don’t care. I know I’ve killed her. I can kill them all. I’m in charge here. “It’s a quick death,” Reagan says, “which is unfortunate. If you’d burned or died in some other way where people had to listen to you scream, then you could have earned double that. Suffering always pays.” “Still, a million dollars,” I say. “Do you have family?” Reagan asks. “A wife? Kids? Anything?” “There’s no one,” I say. I fire more shots at a UPS driver running from a building to his truck and the screen flashes red again. The UPS driver gets into the truck and drives off anyway. “Do you do anything charitable?” Reagan asks. “Coach baseball? Feed AIDS victims on their deathbeds? Help blind people get home?” “This is it,” I say, gesturing at the shooting range. “So what we see at work is what we get,” Reagan says. “A million dollars,” I say again. I shoot the woman behind the flower stand some more. “Break it down,” Reagan says. “That works out to around fifty thousand a year over a standard twenty-year career.” “I could live on that,” I say. “You’re dead,” Reagan reminds me. “Anyway, statistics indicate most men live about a decade after their career life, so the number’s more like thirty-three thousand and change. Which works out to about twenty-seven hundred a month. Let’s say seven hundred a week. A hundred a day. Four dollars and change an hour. Seven cents a minute. A little over a cent every ten seconds. Almost nothing a second.” I consider the math and don’t say anything. I try to shoot a man with headphones who comes out of a Starbucks without seeming to notice the mayhem on the street. But the handgun is out of ammo. Reagan reaches down for a shell casing on the floor. “This is it,” he says, holding up the casing. “This is what your life is worth.”

* * * From The Warhol Gang. Published by HarperCollins Canada. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Darbyshire. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Canada. To read more of this work, you may visit HarperCollins at: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9781554680764&cm_mmc=ref-_-pub-_-joyland-_-9781554680764