“Why so nervous kid?”
The gun shook in Tiny's hand. He pulled his sleeve along his forehead, and it came off damp despite the chill of the late summer's night. He closed his eyes and breathed deep. Not long now, not long and it's all over. He clasped the gun in two hands and rose to his feet, puffing out a calming cloud of mist into the night.
“It's nothing,” Tiny replied, squaring his eyes at the older boy.
Zeke nodded, apparently satisfied.
Tiny shook his head. Was it nothing? He could feel his body getting weaker, his mind losing focus. He was getting tired. It wouldn't be long now before he passed out only to wake up… different. Tiny’s hands started shaking double at the thought. He needed some Dust, and he needed it soon.
The lights of the warehouse switched on and off. Just a flicker to someone who wasn't looking for it, but to them, it was a sign. It was time.
"That's you, kid," Zeke said to Tiny, pointing up high at an appropriately tiny window. The reason they'd brought a "kid" along in the first place.
"That alarm better be off, or I'm literally getting left high and dry," he told Zeke.
“If Tiger says they’re off that means they’re off,” he replied impatiently, looking everywhere but at Tiny.
He would have told Zeke to shove the climb up his arse, but he’d heard the phrase “what Tiger says, goes” from too many different mouths in too many different contexts to not take it as truth.
The rest of the group leaned back against the corrugated iron wall, impatient and apparently too cool to watch Tiny risk a couple of broken legs for the job. He shook his head, tucked the gun into his pants and set off to work.
He leapt off of a stack of pallets and onto the roof of a shipping container, skipping from one to the other without breaking pace. He ran up the wall and grabbed onto the beams that stuck out past the roof, monkey-barring his way across until he was just out from the window. He hung, looking directly at his reflection before lifting his feet and kicking it in. He could hear it smash on the concrete below which, thankfully, was the only sound that greeted him from inside the warehouse. What Tiger says really does go.
He kicked out the rest of the shards and swung in to sit on the edge, stretching out his feet to find a foothold and getting nothing but air. He pulled himself in and hung from the window frame, lowering himself to the point just before the point of no return. Still nothing but a space that may as well have been infinite in the darkness. He lowered himself past that point, return not an option, return never really being an option. His fingers were straining. He stretched his toes out until they just barely scraped the wood of a storage crate. He breathed out a ragged breath and waited for the rest of his body to catch up to his feet in realising he was back on solid ground, somewhat. A little dizzy, he dropped and climbed his way down to open the door from the inside. Zeke flashed him a smile as he entered the warehouse.
“Better than expected kid,” he slapped him on the back, “granting that ‘expected’ was a short drop and a hard stop.”
Tiny held the door for the others as they filed past, each with looks of grudging respect or grudging indifference. As the last entered Tiny silently slipped off his shoe and slid it to wedge the door open a crack.
Zeke led them confidently through the isles with the half-light of one far-off bulb and the blue light of his phone. He knew exactly what he was looking for. Outside they heard a truck pulling up.
“That’s us boys,” Zeke said over his shoulder. “Let’s get this stuff and get out quick. We’ve got 30 minutes, no more”.
He picked up his pace and left them in the relative darkness.
"God, you do look like shit". One of the others mentioned it this time, the blonde one.
Tiny looked up at him, trying to focus with the shitty light quality and a spinning head.
"Don't say nothing. I'm sick of hearing nothing. Your being on this job means my brother misses out on a cut. He'd have climbed that wall in half the time and wouldn't be shaking about it after."
Tiny looked down. His hands were shaking, still. He was thirsty as well, god he was thirsty, and as dizzy as he had been dangling 30 feet up. He swallowed sour spit. Soon.
He gripped his fingers tight around his gun and pulled it out, waving it with a steadier hand.
“It’s just, well, I’ve never actually held one of these before,” Tiny replied.
Blondie laughed. “Whaddya mean you’ve never held a gun before? I knew we should have picked Alfie on this one. This guy’s a fucking amateur.”
“Ssshhhhuthefuckup,” Zeke hissed.
Tiny looked forward, ignoring Blondie for a second. Zeke had stopped in front of a packed shelf on the back wall of the warehouse. He shone his phone light over the label.
‘Marius Industries – Youvelix 10mg.’
“Tiger is gonna love this,” Blondie said, licking his lips.
“I reckon I care more if Lily loves it or not,” Zeke said under his breath.
The boys who'd overheard gave each other a look.
Was that tension he sensed? A power struggle between the heads of one of the most powerful gangs in the city. A divide in the city's second largest gang? He should be paying attention, but his head was swimming and in too deep in to come up for air. He looked over at the box. So close… He wanted to reach out a hand, to dig into the treasure, but he kept it close instead, using it to push his wet hair back. He should wait for another second, see where the tension led, after all, information is always useful, especially when dealing with enemies. But then again, so is brute force, and he couldn't wait another second.
He forced a smile and tapped Blondie on the shoulder. He turned with a suffering look on his face.
“Answering your question, I’ve never held a gun before because the Lost Boys don’t really use guns”.
“Lost Boys? What the fu-”
The handle of Tiny's gun had already slammed the question back onto his mouth, and he crumpled to the floor. Tiny turned to see Zeke's gun pointed at his heart. Fuck, the others didn't make it then. Before he could cry out or beg or scream or do whatever he intended to do with his last breath, a steel bat crushed the hands that held the gun. A follow up took Zeke right across his mouth. Likewise happened to the other three lads in the group as blunt weapons flashed from the darkness leaving crumpled bodies in their wake.
“Cutting it a little fine aren’t we boys?” Tiny said, secretly shitting himself. He really didn’t like guns, especially when they were pointed at him.
“Perfect timing if I were to say so myself,” Slightly said, calm as always, with his steel bat resting against his shoulder.
"We had more trouble than we hoped when we were dealing with the truck crew," said Nibs, his grim expression visible over his freshly lit cigarette. "Now let's load these boxes and get the fuck out of here before these boys wake up".
“Righto boss,” said Slightly and he set himself to the task, “Come on boys, help me out. This shit is heavy for a bit of Dust”. He said the last with a grin despite the effort. It was a good haul. A fucking excellent haul if you were enthusiastic. Tiny was too tired and too shaken to be anything but thirsty.
The boys left with the crates, but Nibs hung around.
“You alright?” Nibs asked as he inspected the goods.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied tucking his shaking hands in his pockets, “just need a minute, you know?”
Nibs looked over him with a half glance, then picked up a crate on his own.
“Hang back here while we load this up. One dart, then we’re out, ya hear?”
He sat back nonchalantly as Nibs went off, leaving Tiny in the half-light. He let a deep breath out and shut his eyes for a moment. Now, right fucking now. You'll die if it isn't this very instant. The screaming got louder and louder until it was almost apocalyptic.
He jumped to his feet and opened the closest crate, grabbing a packet of ‘Youvelix' and ripping it open, scattering white pills across the floor. He dropped to his knees and crushed the closest one with the butt of his hand, then bent over to sniff the powder. You're a fucking junkie Tiny, have the stuff in front of you for ten seconds, and you're already on your knees to it. He was disgusted with himself, but the feeling was overwhelmed as he felt the Dust rush through him. His entire body tensed, his muscles feeling tight to the point of tearing, then loose to the point of drifting away as he managed to relax, although his pulse was still racing. His vision cleared and his mind became sharp. He breathed out. He was young again.
He got to his feet quickly, noticing the mess he’d made.
He scraped the pills up stashed them in his pocket. He shut the lid of the crate and lifted it. No one is gonna miss one box.
“You need help with that?” Nibs asked from around the shelves.
"Yeah, I reckon so."
Nibs grabbed the opposite handle, and the two carried the box out of the warehouse. Nibs gave him a long sideways glance but said nothing. The two emerged into the glare of headlights. The truck steamed as it idled and they rounded it and loaded the crate up onto the back with a heave. Nibs made to leave, but Tiny grabbed his forearm.
“So what’re we actually doing with all of this? There is a fuck load of product here, enough to put us all away for a long time, if not something worse. What’s the play Nibs?”
Tiny whispered so as not to let the other boys hear the doubt in his voice.
Nibs glanced at him, unreadable as always, then hopped up onto the tray.
"You know it's the Tinker's that own the Dust trade in this city. They sell it to the suits on Walter Street and the housewives up in the Hills for a fucked price. I've convinced them that there's a market for it down here, on the streets. They set this up for us, and we've got the location, the time, and all the information we could need to sell it, we just have to not fuck it up."
“So what’s the play? The play is we sell this shit, we sell it for all its fucking worth and take our cut. If we don't, they'll kill us. But then again without it, we're dead anyways. Simple huh? Now get up here so we can jet."
Tiny thought he could see something in Nibs. He was like a book with no words, but the broken spine could tell you enough. He was scared. He was in over his head. They all were.
“Do the others know?”
“You’ve been out of the loop for a while Tiny. There are only two outcomes for this, win or lose, but there are a million avenues to explore on our way to them. We've got ideas mate, don’t you worry about that.”
He held out his hand to help Tiny up, and he took it. Nibs gripped hard and flashed Tiny a wicked smile, his eyes lighting up with a fever gaze.
Fuck, Tiny thought to himself as he got dragged onto the truck, Nibs isn't scared. He's enjoying this. He likes being in too deep. Nibs banged twice on the cab wall, and they started moving.
It felt like the tide going out leaving behind a cracked and parched desert where cool white sands used to be. He hated himself for it but he knew would kill for those waves to wash back over him. He would dive into these puke-filled toilet waters if they were those waves. Pete wretched again but nothing came out. He let his head rest on the toilet seat. He had just aged two weeks in ten minutes.
A knock came from the bathroom door.
“Pete, is everything okay?” his mother’s tepid voice asked from the other side.
She tried to turn the knob but it was locked, and Pete could feel her panic veiled thinly through the door.
"Pete?" she asked, too shrill. The doorknob rattled harder. "Pete?"
He grunted as his head slipped from the toilet seat and cracked down on the tiles below.
“Peter!” The banging was louder now, more urgent, but it sounded far off.
The cold tiles tingled against his furious skin, and it felt nice. It's okay mum, just let me lie here a little longer. A few more minutes and then we'll try the hospitals again.
He felt something warm and sticky pool against his ear but it was far away, it was all far away now. The last few years now felt like a few minutes and the last few minutes felt like an eternity.
A door broke open and then another slammed. Dim lights out a window, then bright lights overhead and even brighter lights tearing his eyelids open. Strangers looked down at him, all with familiar faces and he knew he was having a nightmare because someone was surely out to get him if there that many familiar faces around. Through painful fits of wakefulness, Pete became aware that he was in a hospital, which was strange because they’d all turned him away, not knowing how to treat his “condition”.
“Pete? Pete?” a voice from a face nearby, but they weren’t quite in sync, so he didn't know where to look.
"Pete, can you hear me? This is important, Pete. When was the last time you took the drug?"
The drug? Months ago surely, or years. A thick jolt of pain careened through Pete’s body all the way from his toes to behind his eyes forcing him to sit up a little. He was looking up at Hawkeye from MASH. He had a young face but with grey stubble nonetheless, and old eyes rimmed by grey. What is Hawkeye doing back from the war?
“Two days, I flushed the last of it a two days ago.”
Hawkeye smiled and then turned quickly to give orders. Pete collapsed back onto the gurney as they tied his wrists and ankles to the bed and jammed a bit of plastic between his teeth. He felt angry and helpless then. He tried to spit the plastic out of his mouth but only spat in the face of a nurse who was concentrating on getting a needle in his arm. He fell back again and felt bad for the nurse, and for his mother, and for Hawkeye with his sunken eyes, and for everything he’d done in the past three years. He passed out with the strain of his body aging a year overnight.
Pete opened his eyes against the wishes of his eyelids and saw a stony-faced nurse frowning down at him.
“How does that feel?” she asked in a flat voice.
“How does what feel?” Pete asked, his voice not sounding like it belonged to his throat.
“Perfect,” she said, thumping him on the shoulder before walking away. That he felt.
He lay surrounded by the artificial sounds of the hospital, his heart monitor acting as a brutally slow metronome, keeping the time of his wait. He had time to think, and of all the things he could ask to do with his time, thinking was the worst. He thought about his mother, about showing up on her doorstep on the second day of his cold turkey quit and dragging her back into this world that she'd finally managed to get out of. He thought of his friends, still in that world and probably not long for it with the way they were going. He thought about a thousand little things and a thousand smaller things to distract himself from the pain in his cheeks, from the sluggishness he felt, from the curious tingle in his fingertips that just wanted to know. He pressed his head back against the pillow and bit his lip until it hurt. He'd always had an issue with willpower, and inevitably, he broke.
He lifted his hands to his face and felt. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find; deep valleys of flaky skin and crow’s feet or just empty skin hanging from a skull, but when he touched his face it was, more or less, intact.
“Ready to look?”
The doctor from last night pulled open the blue curtain, stepped in and Pete remembered the striking resemblance to Alan Alda from his MASH days. He was holding a small, square mirror out in front of himself sympathetically, like a peace offering. Pete took it and held it up.
“Two years, they say, for every six months of use. Based on photos your mother showed us that sounds about right. Happy 18th birthday to your body Pete, it finally caught up.”
Pete stared at the Pete staring back. It was like looking at an old photo of his father, strikingly similar, the same green eyes, the same high cheekbones, the same grimy red hair, but not quite himself. He let the mirror drop onto the white sheets.
“Do you want me to grab your mum?” the doctor asked.
“Has she seen me yet?” asked Pete.
“She was here all night; she’s only just left your side for the first time to grab a cup of coffee.”
“Okay,” Pete said. He wasn’t quite sure why he felt so damned ashamed, but he did.
"Hey, Doc?" Pete asked, and the doctor turned with the curtain in his hand.
“How come you let me in this time? Nowhere else would take me, not even you the first time ‘round.”
“I know what you’re thinking Pete, and there’s nothing we could have done. A young man walks in off the street, coming off a drug we don’t know how to treat, we have to turn him away.”
“Then how come you let me in this time?”
Hawkeye patted the side of his own head. Pete lifted his fingers to touch rough stitches snaking through a bald patch in his hair.
"Headwound," Hawkeye said, "That's what we're ‘treating' right now, the rest is out of our hands. Lack of beds, lack of staff, lack of funding," he continued. "Blame the government if you have to Pete, that's what everyone else seems to be doing."
“What everyone else is doing, huh? I’m pretty sure that’s what got me into this mess in the first place.”
The doctor laughed. “At least you didn’t lose your sense of humour with that baby face. On the plus side, the nurses seem to think you’ve grown into a handsome young man”.