Short Story: Cosmic Dues

He was built like a Mack truck; broad, flat, angry, and more chromed than a luxury sedan. To say he wasn’t intimidating would be more an insult to one’s self than him. He certainly wasn’t winning any personality contests, but if there was anyone a person to want on your side in a fight, it was him. Too bad Harry was on the other side.

The first blow hit his jaw and about knocked him from his chair. The chair even jumped a little. How, Harry wasn’t sure. Probably something about velocities and angular momentum. He’d have known if given time to think about it. Instead, he was only allowed a loud “ow!” It came out sounding like a stray dog’s yelp from being thumped on the nose by a rolled up paper. Not the cleverest opening gambit, but what did they expect from him?

The Mack truck reeled back for another blow. Harry cringed in his chair. He weaseled out some quick words, “Ah-right. Ah-right. Ah-right. I’ll talk.”

The Mack relaxed its bionic, chrome arm. Its fist relaxed. Harry breathed a little easier. Not much more, mind you, but enough to speak normally. He swept a hand backward across his greasy, jet-black hair. His hand moved from the sheen and the room was more reflected there than in the Mack’s bionics.

“I seen your guy,” he said with his weaselly tone.

For a moment, Harry wasn’t focused on the Mack. Rather, he eyed the well-suited guy beside him. He looked more upscale than anyone Harry’d ever seen. More than likely, he’d never been on this side of town, hence the Mack. Something about his bearing said corporate work. That much was clear in his suit. His bearing didn’t need it. So why the show? He was trying too hard to look corporate.

Harry’s suspicion was aroused. He slicked his hair back again, determined to root the Suit’s true nature. He kicked back in his seat, “So. Uh. Yeh. Yer guy. I seen ‘im, but-uh, I can’t just go snitchin’ on people. Bad for business you know?” He gestured widely to the pawnshop around him. The Mack sneered. The Suit’s remained indifferent. “So-uh, what kind’a assurances do I get I’m not gonna’ feel push-back?”

The Suit nodded toward the Mack. Before he knew it, Harry’s head was being crushed against the glass counter beside him. It cracked, splintered. His breath quickened with terror, but he did his best to keep his cool.

“L-look,” he said with more quickly and weaselly than before. “I c-can’t just go g-givin’ up people. I g-gotta’ get somethin’ outta’ the deal.”

The Mack pushed a little harder, but Harry sensed the Suit’s nod. His head was released. He gasped for air in newly calmed lungs and shriveled in his chair. The Suit leaned at him, his hands gripping his wrists behind his back.

“Ensure I find this man, and I’ll see that you’re well-compensated.”

Harry shrugged, “Look-uh, no disrespect, but-uh, I gotta’ see the money. You know? Otherwise– I mean, how do I know if you didn’t find a suit on the street?” The Mack reeled back. Harry cringed. “All’s I’m sayin’s–” The Suit raised a hand to stop the Mack. “I’ve got a business to think about. You know? Business. You understand? Nothing personal. Anyone can say they got the funds. I can’t take everyone’s word for it.”

The Mack relaxed his hand again. The Suit reached into a pocket, tossed a cascade of bills at Harry. Whether or not he was Corporate, it was money. One man’s coin was as good as any other’s in Harry’s eyes. He sifted the cash into a pile. It’d been a long time since he’d seen paper money. All of the people he dealt with nowadays used credit-cards, bit-sticks. Paper money was rare. Especially difficult to counterfeit. Only the super-rich had it, but their money was clean, crisp. Brand-new bills. The Suit’s bills were old, tattered around the edges, soft from decades of handling.

Something wasn’t adding up. Harry knew it. Voicing it was another matter entirely. Even if the Suit didn’t nod to the Mack, and Harry didn’t end up smashed against the display case, calling him out wasn’t the right move. He played it cool. He’d gotten what he wanted anyhow. At the very least, the Suit had been honest about that much.

“Right,” Harry said, cracking his knuckles. “Your guy was here. Yeh. Said something about needing protection. Bought an old reel-gun. Paid with a cred-stick. Took off.”

The Suit stiffened, voice like a mortician’s seeking out a stolen corpse. “Where was he going?

“Dunno,” Harry lied.

The pair met eyes. The Suit’s stabbed Harry’s like needles. For a moment, he thought the guy might actually have something shooting out of them. They hurt.

“I do not believe you,” the Suit said.

Shit.

Harry didn’t need to say it aloud. He felt his face slam glass again. It splintered further, began to flex. Small shards pinched and sliced at his cheek. Warm blood flowed.

“Ah-right. Ah-right. Ah-right!” The Mack didn’t let up this time. “H-he said he was going to New-Burg. Place outside town. Little village. Like a cul-de-sac with a few houses. Look there. I swear! That’s all I know.”

The Mack released him. The Suit turned to slink out the door. The Mack followed. The bell over the door rang. Harry was up, headed for the bathroom sink and mirror. He grabbed a rag, wet it, and dabbed at his face.

“You did well,” a voice behind him said.

He half-ignored it, “Yeh. Whatever. Pricks. Comin’ in here like that. You owe me new glass.”

“You’ll have it.”

Harry turned to view the man speaking to him; he was difficult to miss no matter where he went. He looked like some combination of Rastafarian and android; dread-locks, tubes, and chrome glistening beneath, around, and within brown skin. Whatever the Suit wanted him for, the Mack had his work cut out for him. All the same, the meeting had been set. That was all he’d been needed for. That was all he cared about.

“You will find payment, including compensation, on a cred-stick in the office.” He lifted a hood from the back of his billowing, leather coat, hid himself beneath it.

“Y-yeh. S-sure. Come back anytime.”

The man passed by. He drifted more than walked, like some ethereal being. Harry shook off the shuddering awkwardness it forced down his spine. He walked into the office to check his money. The job was simple enough. Moreover, he liked the idea of sticking it to the wannabe-rich folks. The whole thing reeked of bad news though. His only hope was the party that killed the other didn’t come back to involve him further. Corporate warfare was for the corps. It was the last thing Harry wanted to be involved in. He just wanted the cosmic dues even, his shop open, life to be lived.

He may’ve been a weasel, but he was good enough to fool anyone with it. Too bad it always required blood to do so. He dabbed at the wet spot on his face and sighed. At least he’d gotten paid… this time.

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