He draped a battered, red cap behind the door and sidled up to the bar, scratching his enormous head. His eyes were shocked and bleary. One strap of his overalls hung loose, threatening to lose grip. He pulled off the white gloves, tarnished with dirt and blood, heaving his weight up the stool beside the Hero. He ordered a quarter liter.
“Well,” said the barman, “if it isn't the Mario.”
“Don't call me that,” he said, “I told you a thousand times.”
“Sorry, Jump,” said the barman, screwing out the cork.
“Always with the Mario.”
“Everybody calls you—”
“It's a stage name.” He glared around at the billiard tables, dingy and poorly-lit, the dart board nailed beside the shadowy bathroom corridor. The ceiling fan turned silently overhead, squeaking drowned in the repetitive hum of a previous decade's music. “Hell of a stage this is.”
“Come on, Jump. I didn't mean it that way.”
“Calling me like that ape.” He cocked his head to a brown gorilla seated at the corner table. “Call me the Plumber, and be clear about it.”
“Skip it, Jump.” The barman peered to his left, but the ape was lost somewhere in the cold wash of memory, his red tie moist, stained, plastered to the saucer beneath his glass.
“Fine.” He jerked his thumb at the Hero. “But you don't go off calling him Link.”
“Different about the Hero,” said the barman, “Everybody calls him different.”
“Like in Japan, they put a 'u' at the end.”
“They put a 'u' at the end of everything.”
“Except your name,” observed the barman.
“Yeah, but the 'l' is kind of a 'd' and an 'r' together.”
“Sort of. Yeah. But really L, through and through.”
“Dlinku.” He let out a low whistle. “Jesus.”
“Yeah, now you're getting it, Jump.” The barman regarded his other customer. “You ever jump, Hero?”
“Sometimes,” said the Hero.
Jump laughed. “Hero just hops and falls, most of the time. Ain't that right, Hero? Then he goes right back and falls all over again.”
“Yeah,” said the Hero, “Sometimes.” He raised his head. “You're looking awful tall today, Jump.”
Jump shrugged, closing his eyes.
“How many lives you finish with?”
“Don't remember. Lost a whole bunch at the lava pits.”
“Lava.” The Hero shook his head.
“To hell with lava.”
“How 'bout you, Hero?” said the barman.
“The Hero don't have lives. He got them hearts.”
“Hearts?” echoed the barman.
“Yeah. Hero, show 'em about them hearts.”
The Hero stared forward at the space in front of him and the barman, following his gaze for the first time, saw a row and a half of valentine hearts, lined like playing cards just in front of the bottles. All but two were gray, one red all through, one a quarter so, throbbing. “Jesus.”
Jump shook his head. “You said it.”
“What's it feel like?” said the barman.
The Hero leaned forward again. “I got this pulsing shriek in my ears.”
“Jesus.” The barman shook his head. He glanced back at the ape.
Jump leaned forward. “Say, Jim. What does he pay you in, bananas?”
The barman shook his head. “Balloons, bananas. Last week, he tried to pawn some engravings.”
“Of his family crest.”
“Pyrite. Only the first and third letters. Thought he was holding out, but that's all he had.”
The Hero shrugged. “What do you expect?”
“His partner got cash, but he cut him off.”
“Cut him off?”
“Said the donkey's got no sense of monetary value.”
“Where's his partner?” said Jump.
“Out back with his girl.”
“He should be on the weights,” said Jump, “Or the parallel bars.”
“He's outta shape, alright,” agreed the barman, “but what can you do?”
“Stop serving 'em,” said Jump.
“Nonsense,” said the Hero. He turned to the ape, then back to Jump. “Hey. Let's spot 'em one. One for the donkey. What do you say?” The barman set about polishing a glass.
Jump stared at the ape for a long time, then back at his friend. “How many coins you got?”
“Yeah, yeah. Whaddeya got, then?”
“Plenty, I told you. More than you can carry.” The Hero shook his head. “Christ. You and your money.”
“It's the stuff of life.” Jump fingered the coins in his pocket. “Comes and it goes, til you're struck dead or fallen off a cliff.”
“It's an object, certainly,” said the Hero. Their wide blue eyes mulled over the point.
“Quit jerking me around. You got enough? Enough for half?”
Jump knocked on the bar, shaking his bottle. “Drinku,” he said. The barman brought him another quarter liter. “And one more for the primate,” he added. The barman bowed and made off. He turned to the Hero. “Happy?”
“Sure, Jump. It was a good thing to do.”
“I'm very happy.”
“You're a good man, Jump.”
“I'll die like any despot. I'm stupid is all. But I've never been happier.”
The barman filled the ape's glass, spilling a little in the saucer. The ape thanked him laconically, smoothed his tie, and resumed his vacant dialogue with the drink.
A phone rang in the back. Jump watched the barman set down the bottle and disappear.
“Find all the items?”
“I got by,” said the Hero.
“The hookshot? Did you find that one?”
“Like I said. What's the matter with you, anyway?”
“Nothing,” said Jump. He flopped over to dart board, pulled the six darts and stepped back. “What a device, that hookshot. Wouldn't need capes or tails if I had me a hookshot.”
“Right,” said the Hero, “What have they got you doing these days? Power washing graffiti?”
Jump gave the Hero a very studied and seri ous look. He turned to the board.
“Trying to get my goat?” He threw a bull's eye.
“You're right. How's your brother?”
“Fine. Just fine.” Jump squinted at the board. “Your uncle?”
“Haven't seen him in ages,” said the Hero, watching the second dart glide to an 8 in the outer ring. “Save the Princess?”
The third dart landed outside the board, between the 2 and the 15.
“It's no way to live.” Jump frowned. “Why we keep up like this, I don't know.”
“There's others, of course.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“I don't mean in town.”
The Hero stared wistfully at the bull's eye. “I don't know. Sam.”
The fourth dart embedded itself in the wall, amid the constellation of puncture wounds. Jump sounded a bitter laugh. “Old Sam. There's a woman who don't need saving.”
“Hell.” Jump tottered back to the bar. “Who does? I was in here talking to Falcon about that the other week.”
“He don't come around here. You know as well as I do, Falc likes it downtown with the Trigger lot.”
“Bunch of bastard phonies.”
“That's a tall order,” said the Hero, refilling his glass.
“That Falcon, anyway.”
“He drives the best car.”
“Out of four,” said Jump, “He's a bastard phony, who works weekends.” He stalked back to the dartboard.
“He has one hell of a right-hook.”
“Nothing you hadn't seen before,” said Jump.
The Hero almost laughed, but he coughed instead. “As it turned out.”
The barman appeared. “Message for you, Jump.”
“What is it?”
“You got Land in thirty.”
Jump swore softly to himself.
The Hero regarded him. “They'll have you in that submarine.”
“And the airplane.”
Another dart quivered in the wall.
“If I get that far.”
“I swear, one of these days, one day. One day, I'm just not going to work.”
The Hero reached for his shoulder. “Hey. Don't sweat it. Hey. Nobody plays too long on the old joints, anyway.”
Jump blew out a long sigh and emptied his glass. “Life was harder, but the hours were lighter.”
“Not in the arcade.”
“What do you know about the arcade?”
“Anyway. The hours ain't bad with these new kids, blowing each other to hell.”
Jump leaned back, aiming with one eye shut. The final dart sailed into the dark recess leading to the toilet.
“I'm ready,” he said.
He dropped a few coins on the bar and started out. Changing his mind, he stumbled forward another step or two, and turned back. “Tell Scorp he needs to get settled up.”
“Tell him yourself,” said the barman.
“I'll tell him, if I see him,” said Jump, “You do the same.”
“Alright then,” said the barman, “if I see him.”
“Wise,” said Jump, fitting the cap on his head.
The Hero nodded. “Au revoir.”
“Ciao, ciao,” he sneered, and went out.
“He always owes,” said the barman, “Doesn't he work?”
“Quite a lot,” said the Hero, “But he's always broke.”
The ceiling fan turned silently overhead. Every now and again, through the gaps in sound, you could almost hear it whine, but it was only your imagination.
Credit to Alex Di Stasi of Corpse Run for some of the images in this feature.