“You should have been here three weeks ago,” one of them shouted as I walked into the bar and ordered a pepsi.
“So should you,” I retorted, to which he seemed to want to say more, but he shut his mouth and parked his butt on the seat of the stool.
“What you got for us, then?” he finally asked, clearly having decided that my tardiness negated the need for small talk.
“Money first,” I said, equally blunt.
“You’ll get it. Let’s see the shit.” I sighed. There were eighteen of them and one of me. I had to trust Onca’s word that these gentlemen would pay up and not rob me. I opened the rucksack a peep. The talking Aussie peered on and gasped. He grabbed his groin and ran out the room, seventeen pairs of Aussie eyes, plus mine, following his progress. I shrugged.
“You couldn’t have chosen someone with a bit more reserve?” I accused them, and no one spoke.
“You,” I said, pointing to a small one, who looked not unlike an Irish featherweight boxer. “Come and look. I haven’t got all fucking night, I’ve got a trucker coming back in an hour.”
The Irish Aussie sauntered over, trying to look all casual. He didn’t speak but looked down into the bag. I saw the breath hitch in his chest but he managed to swallow down his reaction.
“All right?” I asked. He nodded mutely. “Money?” Irish-Aussie clicked his fingers at two of the Aussies standing by a trunk. They heaved it over and plonked it at my feet. One fiddled with the lock, his attention drawn by my bag which still laid open a tad, so I shut it and the trunk lid was lifted.
“What the fuck is that.”
I looked accusingly at the trunk-opener. He looked helplessly at his mate, who looked at the Irish Aussie, who looked in relief at the groin-grabber, as he re-emerged, looking distinctly dishevelled.
“I don’t want that shit.”
“It’s all we got.”
“Then I’m outta here.” I swung the rucksack back over my shoulders. I turned my back on them, knowing they could easily jump me, take my shit, and, if they fancied it, murder me and throw out my corpse for those who love the carrion. Bears and such. Irish-Aussie called:
“Wait. We must have something you want.”
I whipped back around. “I’ll take an Aussie. I don’t care which one.”
He glared. “What in the hell for?”
“That’s my business.”
Irish-Aussie exchanged looks with his seventeen pals, each of them looking longingly at my bag. Maybe they assumed I was armed, and they weren’t. I don’t know why they didn’t attack me. After a few more silent exchanges, all eyes fell on one Aussie. He was thin and pointless-looking. The Aussie nearest him nudged him, and soon all seventeen of them were jostling and pushing the thin one forward, till he was at the front of the pack, looking at me in fear.
“Deal?” I asked the Irish-Aussie.
“Deal.” I chucked my rucksack on the floor, and jerked my head at the thin Aussie, my think Aussie, who, with a final look at his mates, forlornly followed as I led the way out of the bar.
But the truth was I didn’t want that fucking Aussie for any reason, prurient, wicked, or otherwise. I just wanted to test those fuckers, to measure their desperation. What sort of clan, I figured, would give up one of their own number for a little hit? Because what I’d given them was little, insignificant to what you could get back in the States proper – but this was Alaska, they were hooked, broken, and broke. And stuck there, probably until they all died. And they just given me, exchanged with me, a life, a comrade, for a hit. It sickened me to my core. I had some real trouble getting my trucker to take him on board, too.
“He’s an addict.”
“He hasn’t had a hit in weeks.”
“So he’ll be getting them attacks soon.”
I hesitated. “Probable.” Our own form of haggling.
He grunted. “I’ll take you to Vancouver.”
My heart sank. Just an hour ago he’d agreed to take me to Nevada.
“I can get you whatever you need in Nevada. Anything, Mick.”
“I ain’t taking no addict over the border back into the States. Do I look crazy to you?”
The question was redundant, because Mick, with his huge goggle eyes and is thick glasses making them appear even bigger, looked as crazy as they came. I didn’t bother to answer, but sighed and agreed to Vancouver.
I sat between Mick and the thin Aussie. Mick treated him like a ticking bomb. He refused to put music on, whispering loudly that it might set him off. The thin Aussie remained mute, either by volition, or necessity, or perhaps it was one of the withdrawal symptoms. He just stared out at the road, his thin white hands limp in his lap, his staring, fearful eyes fixed on the tarmac, but perhaps seeing something else.