A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Business Before Pleasure"
"Okay, you remember those metal strips I showed you last week," you tell Trantham. "I'm going to bring you—" You silently groan at the work you'll have to do. "Three of them. All you have to do is get them onto people, onto their foreheads, the same way we got these masks onto them."
"Onto whose foreheads?"
"Lemme see that list again." You study the creased paper describing the students at Eastman.
You wish you didn’t have to do their thinking for them. You wish Evans—the idiot who's pretending to be Chris Trantham—could use Trantham's brain to figure out who's worth copying. Above all, you wish you didn't have to waste time with this meeting at Hochstetter Park.
But, dimly, you recognize that if they were smart enough to think on their own, they'd be smart enough not to let you bully them around.
"This girl, this guy and ... oh, one more of your choice," you say. "What I want are people who hear things, who know things, the gossip and the rumors, the underground stuff. The people who can guess who at Eastman is dealing and who is using, and most of all who they suspect is dealing. We need to find someone plausible for you to be, and besides the ones you mentioned—who sound about as plausible as my Aunt Sue—we need a list of who that might be. You get those strips back to me by Friday, and we'll dig into them to see who might work, because these guys' brains will have that info." Then, since he'd warned you he had a gig to practice for, you dismiss him.
That leaves you with Hall. "Okay, make me happy. Where's the football team getting their shit from?"
"You'd have to ask Carstairs. Or get inside his brain," says Mendoza, the guy playing the junior football player. "He's the one who brings it in, parcels it out."
"Fuck. And what do you mean he parcels it out? He's giving it away?"
"No, but he says, ' Today you can buy, but you can't,' you know, telling people when and how much. He doesn't let Kevin do it that much, only as a reward for sometimes."
"So why don't the other guys come to us when Carstairs stiffs' em?"
"They do, sometimes, right? Even Erik sometimes buys from me. From Mendoza, I mean." He looks very uncomfortable for a moment. "Also, he sells it for cheaper than we do." His discomfort deepens. "Thirty-three for an eighth."
"Thirty-three? Are you—? You can't get it on the street for less than forty, even with a discount for bulk!" A horrible thought hits you. "Is he getting it from a distributor direct? He can't be subsidizing the whole fucking team at ten, fifteen an eighth! Fuck, the way they're playing this season, they're smoking a bale of the stuff a week!"
"Hey, you know I'm playing on the varsity squad these days."
"Shut up." You grip your forehead. "It's gotta be— Wouldn't be my guy supplying him, he's too careful for that shit."
"So put Carstairs under questioning, find out how it's working."
You look at him. Mendoza isn't as reckless as Thomason, but he's the smartest of the trio, and he's probably nailed it. But you've another question for him: "What would Carstairs say if Kevin Hall—" You jab him in the breastbone with a knuckle. "If you were to start distributing on your own down in the junior class?"
He blinks, and stammers. "I don't think he'd like it. It's not a money-maker for him. Like, it's about team rewards, not—"
"Okay, I get it. So if you can't deal, who down there can? I mean, if you had to guess which of the juniors was—"
"Oh, that's easy. Ethan Wade."
"I don't know him."
"Sure you do. We had him in that stupid General Business class last year."
"I only got so much room in my brain, I flushed that shit out while I was in it. But this Wade guy, has he got the guts to handle a set up?"
"Well, he walks around all the time like this." Hall straightens up and struts about like a rooster with a massive boner. "Kind of like you, actually."
"I should fuck you up for that. But it sounds like he might work."
Hall's reaction is studiously neutral. "Are you moving me, like you're thinking of moving—"
"I didn't say I'm moving anyone, and I don't think I'm moving you. No, what I'm thinking is—" But you haven't thought it yet, and it takes you a few moments to think it out. "I'm thinking we want him to do the work, we'll just supply him and help out. We'll sell him eighths at forty and tell him he can sell them at fifty. Like, you and Thomason and Evans have been doing."
"Am I still supposed to be selling three ounces a month—?"
"No, your job'll be to help Wade sell three ounces a month. Not instantly, either, but help him ramp it up, quick. You're gonna be the one supplying it to him, not me. He'll believe it, coming from you. Fucking football team, the crowds at your games get a contact buzz when you run out on the field. You sell him the stuff and you help him move it, but not by selling it direct, you just sound people out if they're interested, point them toward this Wade fuck if they are. That way your hands are clean if Carstairs gets wind of it. Oh, and tell Wade that if anyone asks where he's getting it, he should tell them to go fuck themselves. But if he really gets put on the spot, like giant screws are being twisted into his eyeballs, he can tell them it comes from Matthias. We'll even set up a little dump, a place Matthias likes to go to—"
"You mean that loose board under that portable?"
You start. "You know about that?"
"Whole football team knows. Matthias puts his own stash there."
"God damn it, that idiot."
"Yeah, what's the deal with him these days? Is anyone really gonna believe it's Matthias selling into the junior class? He's cleaning himself up."
"That's why they'll believe it. He's still getting it but he's sworn off it, so he's selling it. But you show Wade that loose board and tell him he can blame Matthias if it gets really hairy. I think that'll cover us."
"Why are things suddenly so complicated?" Hall asks, and his voice acquires a whine.
"You think this is complicated? You got no fucking clue."
* * * * *
When you're done at the park you make a run to the grocery store, but after that you're released from further family obligations until eight o'clock. There are things you should be doing, but when you get to the elementary school, where you were going to look over the next spell in the book, you discover that you've left it behind at the house. Fuck it, you decide. You call Kirkham, but he's busy.
And that, for what it's worth, is how you wind up back at the water towers with Call and Spencer and Horner.
That'd be Joshua Call, Jeff Spencer, and Nicholas Horner. Not three guys Gary Chen often hangs out with—and Will Prescott never in a million years would—but your itchy butt took you back to the towers, and this trio of dropout delinquents were the only faces there you recognized. "Whyncha bring a party," Call jeers at you. "You always got a baggie of fun with you."
"Or a fortune cookie at least," laughs Horner. He's the smallest of the bunch—the designated butt-kisser—and his grin falters when you glance at him.
But you let it drift. Call takes a swig from his flask and pointedly doesn't offer it to you when he passes it around to his friends. Not that you'd take a swig anyway. The cigarette is enough for you, and the flask looks greasy. Call does too. It's easy to imagine black grime under his fingernails and motor oil between his fingers, probably because, with his tight skin and ropey muscles, it's easy to imagine him wielding a tire iron. Doubtless the stains—of oil or of blood, depending on the particular job he made of it—wouldn't show on his black t-shirt.
You just grunt. "Well, when you guys are in the market next time, talk to my boys," you tell them.
"They never have anything," Horner says in his sneering whine; the rat must be feeling brave because you didn't chastise him a moment ago. But he does flick a nervous glance at Call; he never says anything, that you've ever noticed, without looking to his bruiser pal for permission or approval. "I asked Tanner if he had a toke, and he said—"
"When was this?"
"Coupla weeks ago. And he said—"
"They're gonna start having some anytime you ask, starting next month," you say. "We picked up some more supply, gonna—"
Call laughs hoarsely: a bark like an elephant seal. "Sounds like some of those bullshit business classes are starting to kick in for you, Chen. Shit, I coulda told you—"
Spencer interrupts: "Why don't you get a whore, start pimping her out?" he asks you. His tone is sullen, as is his stare.
"Fuck, man, I like the way you think," Call says, and laughs again. "Make yourself fucking useful, Chen, set up a stable of ponies for us to ride." He claps a hand to his crotch. "Fuck, if you could talk Jelena Petrovich into—"
"She's gay!" Horner whinnies.
"So? Gimme fifteen minutes with her and—"
The repartee that follows is obvious and boring. But your are thinking about Spencer's suggestion: between the stone -bots you've made and the masks, you've basically got an instantly deployable "build your own whore" kit.
Next: "An Army of One"