Dust to Dust

By Amalasuntha

When the skinny man came up to me whilst I was quietly enjoying my drink in the corner and asked blatantly if I wanted some Dip, I knew that he must be new in town. Very new indeed. I pretended to think it over whilst the whole bar went momentarily quieter, people trying to casually listen in without making it appear obvious. Big Jase shifted position subtly and carried on watching the replay on the vidscreen, the pool game between Sara and Tree went unusually quiet, Hoppy the barman’s eyebrows had gone up a fraction but otherwise he gave no sign of surprise. The shabbily dressed youth took my silence as encouragement to go on. “It’s good quality’ he said, giving me immediate cause to think otherwise, a Duster never opened up an offer that way, not a professional one. Granted you got those who made lots of noise and bluster trading with angsty kids, but the real ones, the proper businessmen made deals through runners, used scouts, paid taxes and met rivals twice a year in neutral territory at Summer and Christmas to socialise.

This bar was far from neutral territory, I would have though that the name would have given it away to anyone having done at least a little homework. Yes, this gentleman was very new, and probably very desperate to come in here and try to deal. I smiled, opened up my usual defensive posture, lent forward and nodded to Hoppy for anther drink of my usual plus one. “So,” I said sweetly, with the full beaming smile of an televangelist, “You’re a businessman?” He nodded and taking the opening sat down on a stool with his back to the open room. There’s a reason I sit in corners, so do most in my line of work, another thing which screamed at me that this skinny bit was very inexperienced, plain stupid or had just done the most brazen thing I’d seen in here in a very long time.

I decided to go through the languorous questioning route, it was way to easy otherwise and the fun would be over too quickly. I needed some entertainment this evening, already knew how the vidscreen game would turn out. Hoppy brought the drinks over and skinny bit conspiratorially leaned right in.

“You an independent?” I asked “not seen you in here before.”

He shook his head. Point to you boy, independents were a mythical breed, not seen for a decade in this city. “I work for Tony Tiger” he said. I took a long sip of my drink, Hoppy had poured me a double, good man. I raised my eyebrows and slowly nodded appreciatively.

“Been in business long?” I asked casually.

He frowned, obviously hadn’t worked out on a potential buyer being competent enough to string a sentence together.

“Why? He asked, “what does it matter? Do you want some Dip or not?”

Mistake number one kid: always talk to your buyer, helps them trust you.

“No reason, just thought I’d ask, you being a new face and all”

“Not that new” He bluffed “I’ve worked another patch for years, just been transferred over from Highgarden Parade.”

“A scout then,” I offered. Ignoring the blatant error in his logic. Name a nearby estate and hope that it’s the centre of a designated area. Take the gracious way out kid, I would.

“Old Duster” He gulped at his drink and swallowed.

I nodded and paused to watch the momentary spasm of his left thumb. An obvious sign for those that know what to look for.“So, What’s Tony up to these days?”

“Tony?” he asked. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already kid, it’ll take all the fun out of my play.

“Tigerman,” I said “He’s not been seen round here much lately, you said you worked for him” Let’s see exactly how stupid you are. Behind the bar, Hoppy had to turn away to hide his smile-with-missing-teeth, not that the kid would have seen it anyway, his focus was all on me and my corner of the room.

“He’s about” the skinny youth said. Maybe not that desperately stupid then.

“You’re obviously well-connected” I offered “You must visit him at The Cage?” The youth nodded and took another long drink “All the time”

“Visit there often?”

“They keep a room open for me”

I had to pretend to cough and drink hurriedly to stop from laughing. The double and ice was almost gone and I was only just getting to the fun part. Abstractedly, I wondered what Martha, long time housekeeper for The Cage, would think of this unkempt youth, badly needing a wash, shave, haircut and new shoes, frequently staying in one of her pristine rooms.

“Well,” I said “That is impressively well-connected” And monumentally stupid. I made to reach for my inside pocket, the youth tensed and I withdrew my hand slowly and deliberately.

“We can deal” I reassured him “How much?” This is where you negotiate first kid, settle price and weight before the reveal.

He reached into his trouser pocket, withdrew a fat bag of pure Dust and placed it at the centre of the table on the beermat between us. Desperate then. It sat there and sparkled in the direct light, all the colours of a frozen rainbow reflected in the powder crystals. I pretended to stare at it open-mouthed, and had a momentary thought that this might be a police or private bounty bait. Even they wouldn’t be this stupid. Surely.  He stared at it, as if he’s never seen so much of it before.

My mind made itself up.

“How much?” I asked casually Time to finish this and stop playing

He named a figure. That was the final piece of the puzzle. Fun over. Didn’t even haggle for it, and was selling in Dusters weight. Or at least attempting to sell. Badly.

I sat back, crossed my arms and smiled. The smile of an empty light-bulb, all teeth and no warmth. Didn’t touch the bag. Waited for his mirroring smile to fade into uncertainty, then into open worry as he slowly realised that somewhere along the way, something had gone seriously wrong.

I reached inside my jacket and held my hand there as I said “Where’d you get it from?”

“What?”

“I said where’d you get it from?”

“I’m an experienced Duster, I’m not liable to reveal my own contacts to a n-new b-b-buyer”  The left thumb jitters again.  He moves it under the table.

“Drop the act kid, otherwise you’re leaving here feet first, still might be. So humour me in your last minutes: Where did this come from?”

He crumpled then.  Sport over. Ah well, it was fun whilst it lasted.  Didn’t even have the grace to protest.

“You’re not one of Tony’s, you’ve never worked Highgarden and if you’ve set even one foot inside The Cage it would only be as an educational example of how not to do the job.  So, where’d this come from?”

He looks away, glancing for the distance to the door, I know it’s too far, I’m not sure he does.

His left eye spasms.  He’s got it bad.  Smart question is, why not take this stuff and have it as a personal present, an early Christmas.  Or Hannukah.  Whatever.  I can hear his knee hitting the underside of the table in jerky rhythm.  Why come in and try to deal when it was obvious who needed it more?

Two tears race each other down his thin cheeks.  “S-S-Sh- S-S-She s- s-s-said, t-th-that I h-h-h-had…”

God, he was stuttering badly now and shoulders shaking, he was wired and so tight I could have sneezed and he would have cracked.  Poor stupid skinny bit.  And then, sudden revelation:  the deal wasn’t the Deal.  I stood up, and hissed “Out, kid” pointing at the door.  He tried to stand, his eyes rolled back and he collapsed onto the floor, taking the table with him.  Dust and broken glass went everywhere.  Sara, Tree, Jase and Hoppy watched open-mouthed from across the bar as I cursed and backed out of the corner, kicking his stool out of my way and stepping over him so I could get to them.  We stood together and watched as he arched his back so much he was almost bent double, feet and shoulders on the floor, hands grasping the carpet, straining against what must have been a massive amount of Dust in his blood.  None of us moved.  It was already too late.  He gasped like a drowning man, pushing round in useless circles and then he died.

None of us had said anything, but we all knew what it meant.  Set up.  Someone dies of drugs on your premises and the Law comes crawling over every inch of everyone who’s involved, right down to those who walk past on the way to the shops.  Damn this was going to cost me in bribes.  Still a death on the premises wasn’t the worst thing that had happened here, just had to move before the Law found out.  Hoppy flicks the controls to drop the outside shutters and I turn to Sara and Jase, nodding towards the mess.  I don’t need to say the words, they’re a good crew and know what needs doing and how to do it.  The shutters whir steadily downwards, and Hoppy pours me another double without asking.  Good man. I turn to Tree to ask him to check the back and bring the van round, when something feels wrong.  It’s just a feeling, something’s odd here, like a book out of place on a shelf.  There’s no noise but the shutters still heading down and everyones doing what they should be.  So what was wrong?  Then the power went out.  Not just the bar lights, but everything, the vidscreen, pool table, ads, shutters, the lot.  And I knew that we were in for worse than a going over from the Law.  Even though it was still quiet, I hit the floor.

(more about Amalasuntha.)

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