Ancient History, Part One
SUMMARY: Once upon a time, there was a boy who was a thief.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, OC.
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
Eggie actually considers standing outside, pressing his ear to the door to gather whatever thin threads of sound might make their way through. Only trouble with that plan is that bloodkites have hearing like a fucking dog, and he knows who'd be the first to pick out the presence of the other. That kind of trouble, Eggie doesn't need.
What he needs is to fucking concentrate on his fucking invoices, but his brain keeps replaying other fucking scenes. Young, brown-eyed Wilson sucking off the blood-sucker, like Greggo wasn't the heartless inhuman bastard Eggie knows him to be. It's not gonna end well for Wilson, tangling up like that with a guy who doesn't give a half-turd about anyone but himself.
A skritching noise to his left breaks Eggie's focus, but it doesn't surprise him. The little weasel is right on time, making its rounds of the shop in search of whatever the hell it eats. Rats, Eggie knows it catches; that's why he chose not to kill the furry freeloader years ago. "Tell me, Riki," he says, and Riki stands to attention, hanging on every sound -- "why it is, huh? I gotta pay for a little lovin', and Greggo, I mean I love the kid but come on, an asshole's an asshole, and he gets that for free? The fuck is wrong with this universe?"
Riki twitches his coal-black nose, and his whiskers shimmer like spider-silk in the light, and oh, fuck it all, it's never good when Eggie catches himself getting all poetic and shit. Annoyed with himself, he opens the bottom desk drawer and fishes out the ever-present sack of ghisnuts. Why a rat-and-bug-eating stowaway weasel likes roasted seeds, who the hell knows, but Riki'll take as many as he can get, the little mooch. Eggie tosses one and watches the dark glossy ripple of Riki's back as he pounces.
"Not that you know a fuckin' thing about the universe, right?" Riki pops upward, the ghisnut already gone, and twitches out his impatience for more. "You got it good, Rikko. No bills, no worries, maybe it sucks that you got nobody to screw, but if you don't give a damn, maybe it's not so bad." He tosses more nuts, smiling at Riki's quick, precise jumps. "I just wish you coulda seen that kid, back when."
The shop was a lot smaller then, dimly lit, not much more than an oversize junk room, but even in those early years the surveillance was excellent. Eggie'd been watching this skinny kid case the joint for three straight days, keeping track of each small item that disappeared into a dirty pocket, working it out like a math problem.
The answer he'd come up with was that the kid was building some surveillance of his own. Smart kid, but lacking experience, too cocky. Interesting, though.
On the fourth day, when the kid went to slip out the shop's back door, he discovered that this time it wouldn't open. Eggie still recalls watching the stiffening posture, keeping the vid feed following while the boy made quick steps first to the side entrance -- also locked -- and finally, trying to hide his fear, toward the front door.
He couldn't get that open, either.
The first word Eggie ever heard the kid say was, "Shit."
"You got that right, kid," Eggie drawled over the com. "For one thing, that soundstrip you stole from me yesterday? Not compatible with the crystal relay in your left pocket today, you moron. You need a cS-891, and for God's sake, don't try to jam those tungsten hairs you lifted two days ago into the outgoing feed."
The kid had stood there with his mouth shut and eyes wide, casting around for an escape route he must have known he wouldn't find. Finally he summoned enough moxie to speak up. "What are you going to do to me?" he asked.
"Wrong question, kid," answered Eggie. "Question is, what are you going to do for me?"
"Damn, Greggo. You got a hollow leg or something?" Eggie said as he peered into the grimy cooler at the back of the shop. There'd been a whole meat pie in there before lunch, and most of it was gone now, along with two melon sodas.
"You want work, you gotta feed the machine," Greg said. The kid was bent over a salvaged hauler motor, stripping it of every part that had any value. He was wearing a pair of work pants that were indigo and too long when they were new, but in the year since then they'd faded out to near white at the knees and around the back pockets, and Eggie glimpsed a couple of inches of skinny ankle below the hems.
Skinny wasn't quite right. The kid was built like a whiteplains gazelle: long bones and smooth muscles, with slim hips and more than half his height in the legs. He'd just turned fifteen, and his old shirt strained across his shoulders.
Greg put down the screwdriver he'd been using to pick apart a wiring bundle and grabbed a socket wrench. He had a streak of grease across his cheekbone, and he looked up to see Eggie watching him.
Anybody else that age would have blushed, but the kid just stared back, those blue eyes narrow under a mop of messy curls.
"Your mouth's hanging open," he said, in a tone of voice that fell somewhere between scornful and helpful, and Eggie turned away.
It didn't matter that Greggo and his dad didn't get along. Even shitty parents suddenly become real interested in proving their devotion whenever their kid came home with tales of having his ass grabbed.
That was trouble Eggie had no interest in getting involved with. At least not yet. He looked back from the office doorway.
Boys had a habit of growing up, and Eggie'd always believed things came along in good time.
The motor bike was on a trailer of junk Eggie bought off a former customer who'd fallen on hard times. It was the guy's own damn fault; Eggie had told him that his xeri-farming venture was supremely ill-advised. Most of the stuff Eggie planned to immediately off-load to a scrap recycler, but the guy assured him the bike still ran.
"Gets from here to Sandport on a quarter tank," the guy said. Eggie looked down at the bike. It was an old Hungar Nymph with a coat of dull red paint and old-fashioned steel-spoke wheels. The fake leather saddle was split and peeling, but the dipstick came up clean and the hand brakes had a good amount of pull left in them.
"Looks like a piece of shit," Eggie said. "I'd be doing you a favor taking it off your hands."
"It runs good," the guy said. "But if you feel that way about it, I'll keep it."
"I heard you're headed to Monroe Station. Can't ride there, so forget it, I'll take it," Eggie said gruffly. He counted out a slim stack of grimy currency into the guy's palm. He stopped, holding the last bill between two fingers. "Throw in the trailer and I'll give you twenty more."
"It's worth more than that." The guy still had some pride left. What a shame.
Eggie leaned closer and clapped the guy on the shoulder. "What you got left to haul, brother?" he asked, and the guy's face crumpled.
"Deal," he said quietly, and he stuffed the currency into his pocket.
Eggie stood aside while Foolish Fred jerked the cotter pin out of the trailer hitch and fired up his beat-up flatbed in a cloud of blue smoke.
"Greg!" Eggie yelled when he finished coughing up what felt like a half a pint of vaporized crude oil. "Get your lazy butt out here and unload this." He kicked the latch loose on the trailer gate and an old chipped enamel gas broiler fell to the ground with a crash.
"Hey, Eggie, don't break the crap," Greg said from the doorway to the shop. He was leaning on the door frame, an oily rag in his hands and a dust devil swirling around his coverall-clad legs, but he suddenly straightened up and came trotting over.
"Tell me you're not scrapping that." The kid's eyes were alight as he jumped up on the trailer and grabbed the bike's handlebars. He wrestled it loose from the tines of a rusting cultivator and swung his leg over the saddle.
"Supposedly it runs," Eggie said.
"Might be useful around here," Greg said. He got off the bike and pulled himself up to his full height. The kid was nearly six feet tall now. "Cost less to drive than the zheep."
"You can't ride the damn thing."
"I can learn. I've learned enough other stuff."
"I've learned that your pop will kick my head in if you break your neck on that deathtrap," Eggie replied.
Greg snorted, a sound that conveyed more pain than he probably intended. "You don't really think he cares? Don't even need his permission for a bike license. What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
Eggie's poker face had earned him a fortune more than once, and he didn't show any sign of how much he liked hearing those words.
"Been thinking about this, have you?" Eggie said, and Greggo ducked his head, the way he did when he cared about something and didn't want to show it. "All right, kid. But you want it fixed up, you do it yourself. It's not my fucking problem."
"Good deal," Greg said, and he ran a hand down that scabrous saddle like it was made of the finest tooled leather.
"But do it on your own time. I ain't paying for you to play around all day."
Eggie walked back into the shop and watched out the window as the kid hefted the bike off the trailer and wheeled it safely away. As he tossed the rest of the junk into sorted piles, he looked over every few minutes at his battered prize.
Good deal indeed, Eggie thought.
He had to admit that the kid had a knack for mechanics. Within a couple of days, he'd somehow acquired most of a tattered manual for the old bike and had it tuned up. The next day he found a box of riding gear that Eggie had forgotten ever taking in trade. The helmet was scraped up -- the kid had pried off the broken face shield and substituted a pair of goggles -- and the black leather jacket was cracked with age, but it fit.
Did it ever. The first time he saw the kid with that jacket snug around his waist above those worn work pants, Eggie thought he'd have a heart attack. His second thought was that he knew exactly which video from his extensive special collection he'd be enjoying after closing time.
"That's coming out of your wages," Eggie said, after he'd smothered a cough with a hand over half his face.
"Employment law says you have to provide me with appropriate safety gear for required work tasks," Greg said. He pulled off the helmet. His eyes were gleaming.
"You're talking Oil Union rules," Eggie replied. "That shit doesn't apply to independent merchants."
"For a half-credit helmet you'd risk losing the best help you've ever had?"
"You haven't even ridden the damn bike yet, smart ass."
Greg grinned and stuck his hand in the jacket pocket. "There were mouse pellets in the helmet."
"I'm thinking two hour's wages," Eggie said.
"I put a new strap on the goggles."
"An hour fifty."
"And leather conditioner for the jacket. This thing was peeling like a bad sunburn."
"An hour and half."
"One hour, and you throw in the first tank of petrol."
"Half a tank."
"Deal," Greg said. He pulled a couple of small bills out the pocket and held it out to Eggie.
Eggie reached out and took the money, the kid's fingers brushing his for a split second, and he crushed the bills in his fist. "Get back to work, biker boy," he said.