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Never One To Do Things By Half

There's the black market and then there's the black market.

Here in the Gutter, the one thing that's always for sale is darkness.

Never One to Do Things By Half by Beau Johnson



He knows he’s fucked the moment I ask if it should be Agent Brand I call him now, or would it be better if we still went with Hank.  I tell him I can’t do Ryan though, a name I just couldn’t comprehend when I looked at his face.
              
“Slide it over to Max and Jeffrey there.  Good.  Good.  You gonna make me ask about the one in your ankle holster?”
              
I offer him a smile.  Then I tell him he should smile, as he’d made it, now within the heart of where all the magic occurred.  I concede our operation has been mobile in the past and more than not the reason we have always been one step ahead.  What excited me more was what I was about to show him.
              
“Before I give you the grand tour, there’s something I need to get off my chest.”  The method of his madness is what I wished to address.  Not once had a person ever thought to come at us this way.  Kudos is what I say to him, my appreciation as to how he posed as a doctor so great I’d decided to acknowledge this achievement with something I hoped he’d find just as clever.
              
Brings us to the cardigan I’m wearing.  “Look familiar?”  I hoped so.  Jeffrey procuring it from Hank’s own closet just this morning.  “And what about how low I’m wearing this ball cap?”  I go on and admit how I know it’s the style Janet favors.  Mention of the missus changes things, mainly the temperature of the room.  Good.  Meant I had his undivided attention.  Still didn’t stop me from telling him to drop the look.  I mean, was I honestly supposed to believe he never once thought I might go this route if he went and got discovered?  “You uphold the law.  I circumvent it.  It’s the way this thing of ours is meant to work.”
              
I move us forward, Max and Jeffrey bringing up the rear.  Close to the end of our stroll Jeffrey moves up on past us and opens the blinds.  I watch Hank, his eyes, but the man had become stone; would not give one mention as to how tight a ship I run, the view before us as clean and white and sterile as any operating room the world over.  No matter.  I was too encouraged.  In front of us now the thing he wanted most.  I direct his attention to the larger bins first.  Retrofitted, they jut out from the walls on each side of each work station.  To the left go legs.  On the right, arms.  The final bin sits in front, between each set of doors, and is what we refer to as the and/or bin.
              
“And I know how smart you are, Hank.  So from a business perspective you can see where I’m coming from.  If you wanted to, sure, we could jaw numbers all day long, but bottom line, you still would not believe the amount of raw material we chuck per annum.”  He won’t look at me, only stares on straight ahead.  I understand this.  I can live with it.  Flipping the equation and we arrive at what it creates; when something different is required, a new deterrent set.
              
I give him a few more seconds and then ask him if he’d narrowed down the Big Four my business made most of its profit from.  He still says nothing, but I know he knows, so there really wasn’t much of a point in me asking him to list them.  Instead I lament about the head.  How, try as I might, I am unable to create a demand for that particular ten pounds.  Sure we get the odd request for a certain shade of blue for some guy’s blind daughter, and hey, we will happily accommodate when able, but on the whole, no, heads have always been a dead-end investment.
              
Hence the and/or bin.
              
Made me wonder if I was being as clear as I thought I was; if Hank realized the implications of us talking as we were.  “If it’s Janet you’re worried about, don’t be.  She will never see this warehouse and I give you my word she won’t be going into any of those bins.”  I get nothing.  Nadda.  Zilch.  So I tell him it won’t be his men going in either, the ones from the surveillance van we took care of before lunch.  Still nothing.  Left me no choice but to hit the fast forward button.  “You however, you I’m gonna let live.”
              
And just like that: a response.  Or at least a turn of the head and a look into my eyes.   I take it as a sign, move closer, and put my arm around his shoulder. “What I need you to remember is it could have been your parents coming through those doors.  Could have been your brother and his litter of kids as well.  This is what I need you to recall when all this is said and done and you and your friends try and come at me again.”

The doors open, big as well as small, and through florescent light come Daniel, Becka, and John.  Takes me a moment but I remember to tell Hank how much I appreciate their names, that each one sounded solid and strong.  I then embrace the cliché, but only after the first gurney to work station transfer is complete.  Hank could care less if this would be hurting me more than it hurt him though, and it’s why I afford him his time upon the glass.  His struggle affects me more than I thought it would, however, and I cut things short because of this.

Taking their cue, Max and Jeffrey step forward, continue on, and in an instant Hank and the glass have become the fastest of friends.  I wet my lips, clear my throat, and make sure stubble rubs stubble as I speak into his ear. “You aren’t alone in this, Hank.  Not for a moment.  Yes we may be on opposing sides, and yes we might always be, but take comfort in knowing this decision was one that did not come easy.  After all, I’m a father too.”  


In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter