The city vanished in a brief moment of urban silence, waiting for an answer. “What if I didn’t go to work today?” Hex thought to herself, her eyes pressed shut yearning for five more minutes of sleep. Her alarm shattered the silence and the world flooded back in – the staccato clatter of the elevated subway track from two blocks over. Somewhere on the street, a few short stories below, a slap-fight argument was escalating. 18:00
She thought the shower would help, but it wasn’t cutting through, just wasting time. She had to make a payment before work. Hex stared at that water running down the drain. She knew that her separator/recycler was broken, if she told the management they’d charge her to repair it and probably kick her out when it was finished. If she told the District Office, they’d fine the management. Either way she’d be out of a good deuce flat that took her eight months to find. This apartment is a ghetto palace compared to her last one, a ‘half’ in the Stacy Houses – she couldn’t get out of that one fast enough.
Two messages on the screen, Melita and Stahl, but the screen’s been broken since she moved in, 10 months and counting. Incoming resolve but no outgoing net connection. She’ll have to check from the street, she hasn’t paid for her mobile and she can’t use the Ganesa account, Rada’s boys re-screen all traffic. It might take a month to catch up with her, but it’s not worth her wrath.
She’s counted it a dozens times this week already, she practically knows each bill on sight, and which Drop it came from. She’s done the math time and again. She needs five good drops a night, every night, to make her week. More and she can inch ahead. Hex pulls a dark-blue pharmaceutical plastic tote from between a stack of dilapidated unpacked moving boxes. Its ancient crushed form held strong in the rigor mortis of old cheap plastic. She pries the zipper back and extracts a tattered and dirty white-paper envelope, the old kind – like you find in junk shops on Columbia Street, the ones that cater to the chic fascination with early century ephemera. Inside is small stack of paper bills, she counts them again habitually, with the speed and precision of a street dealer. Hex peels off one lonely specimen and carefully returns it to the envelope, stuffs the envelope back in the bag and then she’s out the door – shoving the big stack of bills in the pocket of her sleeveless utility jacket.
* * *
The low evening sun paints an orange crown across the tall buildings and casts long deep shadows into the valleys of the streets. The fastest way across town is going to be on foot, Hex will have to hustle to get from Ruffo’s to dispatch for shift change. She can’t tell if it’s just because it’s home, but she feels like District 11 is the most ‘normal’ district in Palomar City. The shops are busy, people walk with a purpose, there are sidewalk cafes filled with students, old men play dominoes on crates and old card tables, packs of kids run through the streets and alleys laughing, screaming and playing football. There are stores for absolutely everything, from PIM-stalls and wetware to some of the most expensive clothing shops in the city – though Hex can never imagine paying that kind of money for clothes. Even when she was a courier and it was her job for people to know who she was, she chose simple over flash every time.
In the eighteen months since Hex borrowed the money from Ruffo, he has moved his collections office four times. The current office is in the kitchen in the back of a massive banquet hall. Judging from the menu taped to the inside of the service door, the entire staff is Korean. Maybe Mr. Kan is Korean. Mr. Kan is Ruffo’s money man and he is always camped out in a small office, in the back of some business or another, buried under piles of paperwork and folders, sweat dripping off his brow and he always seems surprised to see Hex. Today is no different.
Hex makes her way through the bustling kitchen, a waiter in a tuxedo waves her toward the back, no one questions her presence however out of place she looks. Hex is a beautiful twenty-five year-old with no visible Wetwork, wearing her usual uniform of gray cargo pants and a sleeveless black-utility jacket over a crisp white tank-top with a big red Gatecrasher logo emblazoned on the chest. The kitchen feels like a busy subway station, every person focused on their own world, heads down hustling through the maze of steaming tables and clattering pots, pans and fire. The restaurant must be on an upper floor, because Hex has never seen it.
Hex swipes a egg-custard tart from among the hundreds lined up across a long prep-table. An eighteen year-old kitchen worker’s face screws-up in contempt, Hex shrugs him off. She was hoping for a nice sweet treat, it’s a bland soggy mess, she looks around for somewhere to ditch it and settles for a passing bus bin in the hands of another pimply youth.
Mr. Kan looks up with his usual startled expression and impatiently thrusts his hand out for the payment. Mr. Kan’s hands and face are covered entirely in what appears to be very high-end synthetic lizard-skin. The pads on his fingers and palm of his hands are slightly worn and beginning to fray. Pearlescent bumps and ridges around his knuckles and joints catch the unfiltered fluorescent light and swim with rainbow reflections. His skin-job must have been pretty high-end when he got it, but he hasn’t had it replaced in years. It’s hard to tell if it’s money or apathy that’s holding him back. “Two payments?” he barks in broken english.
“Yes, two payments, sorry I’m late.”
Hex puts the stack of paper dollars in his hand, which he rifles with preternatural speed and tucks into a bulging old accordion office-file, filled with other payments paper-clipped in bundles. Despite the silky-smooth synthetic-skin, Mr. Kan’s eyes look ancient and watery. He blinks a few times before turning back to his work.
Without looking back up he barks, “Next time, don’t be late.”
© 2017 Zachary Mortensen | 001.003.01 “Paying Mr. Kan”
The Gatecrashers Series 01