The cold was biting, breath in the air, making him think of the cigarettes he had given up. The romance of the thought spiced his saliva with a wonderful analogue of nicotine – fuck the vapour from the electronic dick he had to suck to get his fix … it reminded of everything else that had gone south in his life. Synthetic alcohol that gave him a half-hour kick before the government sanctioned nano-purge rendered all that wonderful buzz generating drug out of his system. How long before even the vapour was kiboshed? You had to be a fucking miracle worker to tie one in Glasgow anymore.
Man, some people were dicks; some people were dicks in private; other people were private dicks. He was the latter, wondered lately with the nicotine cravings if he was being the second to his long suffering cohabit fuck-buddy, and feared he might be becoming the first just by default.
So, what was he digging into today? What pile of shit had his assistant floated across his desk this week? He breathed into the little tube on his hand-held and the screen flashed into life.
‘Fuck the Maskbook updates, skip the Shitter-feed, and just give me the work-notes.’
A face popped up – not the fresh-faced poppet he was expecting or wanting – nope, not even close … this dude looked like he’d sell crack to kindergarteners. Who the fuck wanted this bastard found? Everyone is someone’s dad always seemed such a lame cliche but if he didn’t find something to hook his interest on then he’d be about as much use as an e-cigarette to a nicotine addict. And there he went – reach in pocket, pull out Thomas The Tank Engine’s Tiny Inadequate Penis as he had come to think of it, and puffed on it. It wasn’t working properly. Shit, maybe gum was better after all, he’d looked like a freak wearing all the patches.
He clicked the tab that came in the document about old stony face and accepted the job, got a new message that told him the money had already dropped, then got a second one that gave him a meeting place for the contact. It wasn’t far to walk – a brisk walk … how fucking jolly.
He sat down in the snug and he waited. What sat down opposite him was not what he had been expecting. His hope for some kind of cute female presence in this story, of whatever kind, seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. A bloody artificial clunked itself down – some pre-war rust-bucket that he was surprised was still working. He didn’t like it – an old man as his quarry, a meeting with an artie piece of shit; didn’t bode well; made him tink that first money drop was a fluke and the rest of the case would be as dry as a nun’s snatch.
‘So, what’s this all about?’
‘I, Mr Shuffle, am Centurion, and my owner, Mr Clavicle has gone missing, as you might say, and his daughter provided me with the funding to ensure he is found. She loves him very much.’
‘I’m sure she does. What, if I may ask, does Mr Clavicle do? If you don’t mind me saying, your appearance, and his both lead me to believe he is not necessarily kosher.’
‘Hence coming to you, Mr Shuffle, with your not so sterling reputation. That aside – his business? The finest Cuban cigars, Marlboros, and whiskey.’
‘Now, I know you have to be kidding.’
‘I haven’t used my sense of humour since before the war. Here is more pertinent data that you might need.’
He was glad to bid goodbye to the hunk of rust, and then he dug into the file. Ten seconds of synthetic alcohol buzz, a puff or two of vapour, and a vague glimmer of interest. This case should not take too long to work out. Clavicle had to be discreet – there weren’t too many places where he could talk about his wares, let alone sell them. Narrow it down further by the fact that there were not that many people with the pocket change to buy any of it. Shuffle knew a doorman at the Hilton and it would get him in long enough to speak to someone before the inertia of a shit-heel being in a rarefied atmosphere crashed into him and some unfriendly fucker showed him the door.
Gary was glad of the funds. Shuffle was glad of the Irn Bru he decided to drink instead of wasting his time for once. It cost a bit but it tasted good; gave him faith in something at least. Shawn the barman didn’t give a fuck what he said or he said it to – he was gossiping in the ten minutes before Shuffle approached him. Shuffle showed him the picture of Clavicle.
‘Oh yeah, I seen him.’
‘Yeah, two nights ago with some big cheese.’
‘You have 360 cams in this place?’
‘It’s a bar, what do you think?’
So, then, the question was, how does someone pull off a deal with contraband in even this place?’
‘Can you get me a print of this guy and his guests?’
‘Sure, it’ll cost you.’
‘Doesn’t it always?’
The print was one of those pictures that is worth way more than a thousand words. Clavicle looking uncomfortable, Government Contraband Enforcer Smythe looking unctious and eager to please the third man in the picture, and who was that? Why – none other than Belsley Tincture, E-Cigarette and synth-hol magnate. He smiled. What fucking use was this data? Who was going to prosecute these bastards? It was obvious Clavicle met a sticky end.
He scanned the picture into his hand-held, dictated a long illustrative piece which he attached to it, sent one copy to Centurion and his owner’s daughter, explaining what he was doing, and one copy to Bump his editor friend. Bump would run the story as a speculation dot-the-dot provocateur piece, and it would do what it needed to do – get the right people looking in the right direction. Shuffle hoped it might sink the whole synth-hol and E-Cigarette business too.
He reached in his pocket, pulled out his least favorite thing in the world, and launched it into the cold night. Know what he was going to do? Find a pack of real cigarettes and inhale deep.
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