A Clean Job

Published January 2003

“What the ffffuck!” I spluttered, jolting out of the tattered armchair.

Zink snorted, lifted his head microscopically off his chin to look at my discomfort before settling back down.

Meanwhile I frantically batted at my sleeve trying to extinguish the cigar cinders that had run amok. Acrid smoke curled its way up to my
nostrils as the blaze was extinguished.

“Thanks Zink, you motherfucker.”

“Hmmm…”

“You good-for-nothing shit! How long were you gonna let me cook?”

“I’m sleeping…” he yawned.

“Whatever.”

Zink was a lazy sack of shit, but he was my friend. Together we ran Mr Bloom’s chipping business. Well to the agents we were a small
electrical store, but to our customers we resolved their differences with various datapad manufacturers’ anti-piracy policies.

It wasn’t particularly glamorous, but business was regular and Mr Bloom didn’t breathe over our shoulders too much. Still we had to stay
alive for those fucking anti-piracy agents who got a sick pleasure from busting us chippers. If Sony-Apple and co. wanted to rip off their own
frigging fans then this was what was going to happen, we were going to profit from their stupidity.

Which brings us back to my situation with the smoking jacket and charred shirt cuff. We’d been up all night after Ziplock had tipped us off
to some potential busts in the area. As a result the evening had been spent offering all our customers nothing but kosher electrical goods:-
surge protectors and solar trickle chargers mostly.

Zink had been pretty quiet all night, even after I’d begun the usual rant of the
state of the Western Agnostic Republic when corporate agents could check us out with impunity. What had the revolution been for? Shouldn’t
this kind of action only be swung in CUHP? I didn’t really believe that horseshit, but it passed the time once Zink had been fired up. But he wasn’t
biting that night, so it had passed painfuckingly slowly.

I headed back to my place for a few hours before we re-opened the shop. At the very least I needed to change my shirt and I can’t deny that
I was considering a shave of sorts. It wasn’t far, and with our ‘energy crisis’ as the news sheets called it, walking seemed like a good policy. But it
was hot for a New Mass summer and I’d been on fire not that long ago, so by the time I got the door of the shithole I called home, sweat was
trickling down me like I was a beer fresh out of the cooler.

I’ve never been a particularly ambitious guy, I’ve sorta drifted through my life, such that it is. School was crazy and messed up by the revolution
and its fucking aftermath. My parents had considered moving to the Methodist Enclave but the Guard Matrix had put thoughts of the Intermedes
out of their minds, another policy ‘success’ for the whoring ‘Council of Leaders’. I mean whoring literally for a change, each leader has enough
bitches to keep a small Ay-rab harem, I shit you not.

So I stuck it through the New Mass school system, which probably was the best there was in the early days of the republic. Not that I
noticed, before I’d even graduated I was knee deep in all sorts of crazy pharmas. This was before I discovered real mind candy from the
professionals. I mean, shit, me and my boys were messing around with mega-corp produced dope that was totally legit if your were insane.
Nowadays I don’t mess with that, I’m lucky to have hung onto the bits of brain I did. No, now I only touch properly designed and produced mind
mojo from the Doctor.

I’d changed my shirt and made an attempt at washing before sitting back for some relaxation while chewing on nut bars, about the only
decent thing I’d eaten in the last few days. I rustled through the books and old datapads sullenly, unsure of what I fancied reading. In my funk I
retrieved the home control and found some suitably downbeat tunes to pipe into the room. It’s great how those hacks you do in a fit of
productive madness really hang together, that music system is a real pride and joy. It’s been my bodging and hacking skills that have kept me
sane, and with readies for food and shit.

I’d drifted off as I woke up with a pad under my chin and the music playing something weird. Fuck, I wish I had time implants. But it wasn’t
too bad, the shop wouldn’t be opening for a while so I had an unidentifiable juice drink before heading out the door.

Zink was still at the shop when I got back. Neither of us had much of a life but at least I had somewhere to go. If he wasn’t in the back room
Zink would be tooling around in his piece of crap pickup truck. It didn’t go anywhere, there wasn’t any gas to be found for ordinary shits like us,
but he found it comforting. To be honest I felt kind of sorry for Zink, he didn’t have much in his little life, and a lazy dork like myself was his
boss. Why Mr Bloom had entrusted me with the shop and the codes to the safe and money transfer system I’ll never know. Maybe it was only
because I’d actually graduated from college, just. Anyway I got the feeling that Zink resented my status, not that I got all pompous about it or
anything, I just appreciated the few extra credits it got me.

It’d had been a draining few days, what with the agent alert from Ziplock and my shirt catching light. I checked the store datapad, an all-clear
signal was discreetly not glowing in the corner. I trusted Ziplock, well for this kind of stuff anyway. So I decided that I needed something to get
us through the night.

“You hungry Zink?”

“Yeah, think so.”

“Well, how ’bout some fried chicken?”

“Oh yeah, sounds good. Get some of that smooth shit.”

“Yeah, yeah. But we’re going halves right?”

“Aw fuck man, I dunno.”

“Dudeman I’m not fucking wasting my sugar on you. Much as I love ya, that ain’t gonna happen. We go dutch or I’m getting fries.”

“Shit man, do you have to be so cold?”

I looked at him, trying my hardest to summon a ‘don’t even think about it’ look. I knew I wasn’t good at them, but I had a rep to keep. Zink
wasn’t exactly an intimidating guy, short and rounded but not fat. His dark scraggly hair and burning little eyes gave him a somewhat ferocious
look which was only softened by the unathletic curves of his strange little body. He had dandruff like you wouldn’t believe, flakes on his
shoulders all the time and you could see big chunks ready to go nestled in his hair. I used to try to get him to drink some of the fruity vitamin
stuff they sell over the road but he just wouldn’t touch it.

“Ok, ok. We go dutch. You gonna call the Doctor?”

“Yeah, I’ll do it. Y’know we’ve got a clear from Ziplock so you better pull out the gear.”

“Sure thing, boss;” he chirped with more than a hint of sarcasm.

I called the Doctor and ordered the smooth new stuff we’d tried last time before going back to help Zink with the gear.

About twenty minutes later the delivery guy buzzed. I checked the surveillance cam on the datapad, even with Ziplock’s word I wasn’t going to
be too careless. I really didn’t want any unpleasant shit from hotshot anti-piracy agents. But it was just Dimla the delivery guy, so I scraped up
the credit chip I’d prepared and took the chicken.

Zink bounced into his chair, eager for chicken.

“Man I love the Doctor’s stuff.”

“Me too, Zink. Show me the money.”

“What?”

“What? Fuck off. Give me a chip and I’ll give you chicken.”

“Don’t bullshit me man, just give me the chicken. I’ll give you the fucking money later.”

“No. Give it to me now, I’m not fucking comping you.”

“Motherfuck… this is bullshit…come on man…”

“Dude, don’t piss me off. The chicken is getting cold.”

Greasy fumes of hot chicken were driving both of us crazy, I could sense it, but there was no way he was getting this shit free, it had cost me a
good amount and he already owed me. So I held onto the bucket and just looked at him as firmly as I could. And before long a trip to the pickup
was made and some credits were handed over.

“Thank you. Now here’s your portion.”

I rustled in the bucket and found the two marked pieces, with the little white bit of paper around the bone. Who makes those things? They’re like
a little chef’s hat for the end of a chicken bone… more importantly who decided that they would be a good idea in the first place? Still, they have
their uses… I handed over a piece to Zink and we both began carefully nibbling the coating off to reveal our mind mojo in small plastic pouches
with the Doctor’s MO. Down went the pills and then we devoured the hot chicken.

“Uncle Frank’s make good chicken,” mumbled Zink through a spicy wing.

“Yeah. I’d love to know the deal he has with the Doc.”

“I wouldn’t ask, it’s only going to lead to a world of pain.”

“I know, I know, I’m just curious.”

Zink had a point. As long as you paid the Doctor was a good guy to know, if you could call buying designer hallucinogens and stimulants via a
chicken outlet knowing someone. But if he heard about you sniffing around his business there would be no doubt in his mind that you should be
dealt with quickly and firmly.

I tried to clear the whole topic from my mind to prevent a bad evening on the Doctor’s medicine. His stuff was so smooth we could work the
whole night while on an incredibly easy high. It made working from a shitty industrial unit all night every night kind of bearable. Sometimes…

The night passed like a fucking dream. Holy shit the Doctor had surpassed himself! Customers glowed as they floated in, I was pulsing with the
chips as I put them into datapads, consoles and all sorts of net/sex shit. Damn it was good! Here I was on the cutting edge of technology in the
most exciting place in the world, I could see it all. All the connections, all the protocol negotiations and handoffs. Every data packet blipping
across the network skipped over my brain. I could see it because I was connected to everything…Sweet Jesus! I was there, I was everywhere.

The only downer had been Zink. I mean Zink had been ok but I was seeing darkness, like clouds, around him. There I was floating in all the
electrons, they were buzzing around me like a swarm of hornets, and Zink was dead electrically. No current, just cloud and fog. I couldn’t dwell
on it when I was so high but as I closed the shop and lay back in my recliner it began to weigh on me. The electrons began to bundle around me
forming sparks as they crashed together. I didn’t want the tail end of my mind journey to sour and fuck up so I tried to relax, easing the recliner
back.

I woke up around midday as the sun forced its way through the grilled windows and weaved its way through the dusty air. My shop datapad was
sitting next to the empty bucket of chicken, stuffed full of dirty napkins. I felt clear-headed but awesomely thirsty.

Stiffly I got up and wandered out front into the hot summer sun. God I felt good with the heat on my skin and the rush from my high still fresh
in my mind. I crossed the road and bought a huge fruit drink off Chris in the store. I didn’t have my personal pad with me so I dragged a credit
chip out of my pocket.

Most people didn’t bother with them these days, they just carried a datapad or minipad around with them, some even had a micropad in jewelry.
Sure all the transactions could be traced but they didn’t really care. I’ve always felt that an Agnostic Republic should be a little bit more anarchic,
or disconnected at least. Sure, there was technically no government at the moment, but what the fuck was the Council of Leaders? Credit chips
let you take money out of your account and store it in anonymous chunks on cheap plastic holo-chips, why not use them? They were hard to get
hold of in EAR, but that was Europeans for you. There was no way they could get rid of them in WAR what with it’s libertarian history and all. Well
I think it’s in the Leaders’ interests but that’s another story.

I slurped my drink while I ambled back over the road, squinting against the sun. “BI (Bloom International) Electronics” said the crappy sign. There
was my life; it seemed less cutting edge the morning after. Backing my way through the fire door I pulled out the shop datapad.A reminder blinked, it was time to audit the credit chips in the safe and put their contents into one of Mr Bloom’s accounts.

I didn’t understand why we never credited the chips as soon as we got them, but the boss had his reasons. The account number for this audit
appeared on the pad, they were always different. Yes, it was probably highly suspect, but what did I care ? I just did the job I was given. Sure, I
reckoned Mr Bloom to be a royal fuck but the survival instinct is strong, so I stuck to him like a bad smell.

I wheezed my straw around the bottom of the cardboard cup, choking the passage of juice with the occasional chunk of pineapple. Satisfied I
chucked the cup and went to the small back room with a safe, steeling myself for an afternoon of tedium. Each chip had to be loaded into the
reader, decrypted and verified onto the numbered account Mr Bloom had given me.

We knew the chips were ok when we did our business transactions, we weren’t losers, but Mr Bloom insisted we check them again prior to
transfer. I’d never understood why, until that afternoon, of course. Because as each night’s bag of chips was worked through it became clear that
a good third of the chips were dud, or empty, or some-fucking-thing. He wanted to check on us, the crafty old bastard.

By the time I was done I was extremely agitated to say the least. Either by some freak of nature a third of our clients were passing us duds which
we didn’t notice every, yes every, cunting night or… something weird was going down within the shop. And this is where the anxiety really
cranked in volume, I was the only one with access to the safe. Holy Mary, Sweet Mother of Jesus – Mr Bloom was going to fucking kill me!

We had an extremely dastardly situation emerging on our asses. I needed to figure out what wad had happened, clear this whole fucking thing
up before Mr Bloom knew what the deal was and ripped me a new asshole. Where the fuck was Zink when I needed some help? Shit, I had to find
the fucker and lock down the store before the horseshit impacted the fan.

I stormed through the back room shouting for him and burst out back to the pickup truck. But would you fucking believe it? I nearly shat myself
in surprise, for all I could see was yellow grass and some tracks.

He was gone.

***

Well I can’t say that I wasn’t a little hurt by Zink’s actions. I knew I shouldn’t take it personally, like, but I did consider him a friend. All the same I
couldn’t help but admire his style, it was a pretty slick dude who could throw a trick like that. Especially considering he hadn’t whacked anyone,
it was a clean job. Nope, he’d palmed a whole load of chips right in front of me, every motherfucking night.

Of course we don’t really have cops here anymore, but the megacorps have their own pigs but I wasn’t calling them. As far as I was concerned it
had been a victimless crime, Mr Bloom didn’t have no corporate goons and sure didn’t seem to be short of money, I knew how much he was
making from the store. Who knew what other operations he had? Ok, so I would get some heat from Mr Bloom, but with Zink gone I had an easy
answer to the loss. Nobody was going to find him, he was gone and I was sure of that.

No, there was a lot to be said for a bit of, as the Jews call it, ‘chutzpah’. Maybe I could get me some of that.

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