Once back at Delirium Tremens, Fat Daisy took Carlos to the back office. Peter stayed in the front of the store, watching out for customers and cleaning up Radley behind the shop’s sales counter.
In the office, Fat Daisy laid the boy down on the couch. “Now, I want you to rest here. Here’s some water and a few snacks for you if you’re hungry. Eat and drink as much as you feel like, alright?”
The boy nodded then closed his eyes, and Fat Daisy stepped out of the office.
“How’s it looking?” she asked Peter, walking towards the sales counter.
“Looks OK, though he looks like he got into a fight.” Peter said. Then he added, “And I’m out of peroxide, so I’ll have to run to the store and get some.” He walked out of the store and into the newsstand, just in time to greet a customer.
“Go, I’ll take it from here.” She told him, and then turned to the boy. “Did you two get into a fight?”
“Sort of… yeah,” Radley answered.
“Tell me the whole story.”
Radley explained to her how they first went to his house to use the bathroom. Then he told her about how they opened the package, though he omitted why exactly the package had been opened in the first place, or that it had been his idea. He then told her about the fight, about how Carlos wanted his money and how he had beat him up to get it.
Fat Daisy went pale. Her next words were slow, deliberate. “Did Carlos swallow any of the plastic containers, or did he play with the… uh, cigarette?”
“He didn’t swallow anything… but I sort of…” the boy’s answer halted, then started again. “Actually, I… I saw this movie once where a guy put a cigarette on another guy and I thought it’d be funny to do it on him. I didn’t think it would hut him, though, because it wasn’t on. We didn’t smoke or nothing, I promise! But after I poked him he started to bleed.”
Fat Daisy’s eyes grew wide as she drew a deep, nasal breath. She was afraid, and Radley could tell.
“Will he be OK?” the boy finally asked.
“Fine,” she said uncomfortably. “He’ll be fine.” She tried to put on a smile for him, but it didn’t last long. She got up and headed quickly towards the office. “Just wait there until Peter gets back, alright?”
“Alright,” the boy answered, though by then she was almost in the other side of the store, her mind already on what she would need to do. The boys didn’t know much, that much was certain. Still, they knew enough. What if they told anyone what happened?
In the office, she noticed that Carlos was still lying down. He had drunk some water, which was good, but hadn’t touched the snacks. She pulled the desk back and opened the hidden door. From a small cubicle locker inside it, she pulled out a syringe and a blood sampling kit.
“Alright now, Carlos, I’m going to make sure you’re OK. But I’m going to have to draw some blood, alright?”
The boy, still lying on the couch with eyes closed, mumbled something, which she took to mean he understood. Not really, but it didn’t help to think otherwise.
Her heart raced and her hands became cold. She wrapped the boys arm with a rubber band just above the elbow, cleaned the skin on the crook of the arm with a small alcohol pad then drew a bit of the boy’s blood. She looked down and noticed a small scab on the bottom of his forearm. She guessed this was where the other boy had pricked him with the stint injector, what they, like the kids called “the cigarette”, since that’s what the injector had been camouflaged to look like.
After she finished drawing the blood, she put a sample of it onto a tester strip and waited. If it tuned white, stints were present.
Stints, Fat Daisy had always thought, were an interesting drug. They were the drug of choice for white collar professionals and people in high-demand jobs: doctors, lawyers, and — luckily for her — police officers. On the street – or rather, in the offices — it was sometimes called “caffeine-plus”, but most people knew it as “Instant Cowboy.” The drug gave users the ability to work at maximum performance for days — a long stint — without the need for sleep. In addition, stints increased the user’s intelligence, which is one of the reason professionals in intellectually demanding positions were so attracted to it. The intelligence gains only lasted until the user started to abuse them, however. After that, the user would lose the intelligence gains, as well the ability to sleep. The fact that stints were highly addictive usually meant that occasional users became junkies, fast. Good for business, bad for them. Once a user became a junkie, stopping stints cold turkey would result in one hell of a crash, us
ually a coma. Users, especially first time users, also sometimes became overtly violent, one of the reason the drug was popular with folks at fight clubs.
Although Fat Daisy was a small-time stint dealer — she had only done a couple of million in sales since she started a few years back — she was the biggest connection the Cassola family had in town. Stint was the only drug she really bothered with, since the fact that she had managed to stay well under the radar was in no small part due to its prevalence in law enforcement, an issue everyone knew about but no one wanted to tackle. And she did her part to make sure the right people never looked, at least not at her.
Even then, she was extraordinarily good at covering her tracks. Still, she got all the help she could get. And it helped that no one in town knew the supplier. She had always used third parties to do her work, which in large part contributed to her being as backed up as she was. This is why she had decided — without prior planning, really — to enlist the help of the two young boys now at the shop.
But now, with one of the boys sick and the other looking like he had been hit by a ton of bricks, she wondered whether she would be able to keep this all quiet. The cops would bust her for this, sure. But it wasn’t the cops she was worried about, since her biggest customers wouldn’t be too keen at cutting their source off. It was her suppliers, the Cassolas, she really feared. If she were caught, she wouldn’t even make it to trial before she was offed.
She waited for a long minute then saw a white dot. She knew that wasn’t much, and let out a sigh of relief. Yeah, stint was present, but in small enough quantity that the body shouldn’t have a problem getting rid of them. This boy had gotten a small dose, though. It was just large enough to mess him up a bit, but not enough to do any real damage. After some sleep, and a couple of days’ worth of headaches, he would be fine. In fact, it’s likely he wouldn’t remember any of this incident: first time users often forgot their first experience, though the results of it would usually bring them back for more.
It was the other boy, Radley, who now concerned her. How much did he really know? Could she count on him not to tell what he saw? For how long? She thought about the other boy, Carlos, and wondered whether she could do the same to Radley, inject him so that maybe he’d forget what happened. But no, it was too risky. Too little and he’d remember everything, as the kid now in her office still might. Too much and he’d be dead, something she certainly didn’t need.
She thought for a minute about what she could do.
Peter walked back into the shop, put the peroxide and some bandages next to Radley then headed back out to the newsstand. “Hey, Nance!” he yelled. “I got the stuff and put it next to the kid. Going out to take care of customers.” Rush hour, their second busiest time of day for the newsstand, was on. Being busy with the boys was no reason to close.
As Peter left, Daisy walked out of her office and towards the boy. “Alright, I’ll finish up here then,” she said to Peter. She grabbed the peroxide, put some on a clean napkin and began dabbing at the boy’s wounds, most of which had already started to scab. She knelt next to him and asked, “You feeling better?”
“Yeah,” Radley said.
“Good. Tell you what: I’ve been thinking that instead of just paying you boys cash, how about I give you two free comics a week from now on for the work you did today.”
“Really?” the boy asked, eyes wide and unbelieving.
“Really. Except for the fight, you two did good today. But you have to make me a promise.”
“You have to promise me you won’t tell anyone about what happened today with Mr Funland’s package, alright? That stuff was private. It was his medicine. You boys shouldn’t have opened it. And because it’s private, you shouldn’t tell anyone about it. But because you told me what you did, and because you did such a good job today, I’ll give you boys two free comic books a week from now on. But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone what was in Mr Funland’s package, alright? If you do, no more comics.”
The boy nodded with full understanding. She wasn’t giving him comics for just the job, she was also giving him comics to stay quiet. The package was private, after all. So what if Mr Funland smoked? It wasn’t like it was illegal or anything. And the other stuff was just medicine.
But then he thought of Carlos, and the fight. He couldn’t talk about the fight, could he? His mom might understand, but his dad would wonder why he hadn’t fought back and won? What about all those karate classes he had taken? And could they talk about stopping home? What about —
“Will Carlos be alright?” Radley asked in a sudden, electrified realization.
“He’ll be alright,” Fat Daisy anwered him in a slow, reassuring voice. “He just needs some sleep. He was just tired after all that running around you boys did. That’s why he started to get angry at you. He was just tired.” She nodded as she said this.
Radley wasn’t so sure he believed that, but he got the message. Carlos didn’t exactly look tired when he was about to kill him for five dollars. But then he had passed out, so maybe Fat Daisy was right, maybe he was just tired. Or maybe it was Mr Funland’s medicine that made him tired. Still, he knew he probably shouldn’t be hanging around Carlos much anymore, not if he got like this.
After a few minutes, Radley decided to head home. Fat Daisy gave him his money — eight dollars, though he insisted that five of it go to the still sleeping Carlos — and allowed him to take two comics. He put these into one of the backpacks and left, taking both backpacks with him.
Half an hour later, Carlos came to. He couldn’t remember much about what had happened after he left the shop the last time, and he had a slight headache. Fat Daisy told the boy he had gotten tired and into a small fight with Radley, but then took a bump on the head. A few minutes later, she told him he should go home. She gave him the thirteen dollars — five of which had come from Radley, she told him — and allowed him to pick up a couple of comics, after making the same promise Radley had. Carlos then took the last copy of Ultimate Warlock and a copy of Condorito 2000, and asked if he could get a ride home. Peter, who had just closed up the magazine stand portion of Delirium Tremens, offered to take him.
After Peter and Carlos left, Fat Daisy sat and thought for a while about the deal she had made with the boys. She knew that kids couldn’t be trusted to keep secrets for too long, which is why she felt at peace with what she would do next. When something went wrong, after all, someone had to take the fall, and she had made a career out of making sure it wasn’t her.