SUMMARY: New opportunities arrived on two wheels.
CHARACTERS: House, 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.
The kid came in early the next three days and spent hours learning to ride the bike. At first he'd wobbled in a straight line like a drunk after last call, but he soon caught his balance and was trying out a few wide turns on the dirt lot by the loading dock.
By the second day, the annoying buzzing of the bike as it sped past his office window was getting on Eggie's nerves. Bookkeeping was a big enough pain in the ass, what with having to keep his own records and the ones only the land-lease agents ever saw, without listening to a giant mechanical wasp.
He stood up and cranked open the window. "Greggo!" he yelled, and was treated to the sight of the bike swerving to a halt.
"What?" the kid shouted over the idling engine.
"Get off that fucking thing and do some work. Preferably something quiet."
"I'm on my own time," the kid said. There was no missing the sulk in the line of his mouth.
"It'll all be your own time if you keep that up. Get in here. Now!"
The kid had a temper. Eggie knew that already, but he also knew Greggo usually didn't show it. He was given more to caustic comebacks and defiant gestures than to outright blowups that could get him canned.
The kid glared at him, twisted the bike's throttle and it leaped forward with more power than Eggie thought the beat-up thing had in it. Some tune-up, he thought, and then the bike's rear wheel skidded out from under Greg and he lost control. He was slung across the stony dirt lot, rolling away in a sprawl of loose limbs.
Eggie slammed the window and took off out the door. The bike's engine was ticking as it cooled, and Greg suddenly sat up and pulled off the helmet. His pants leg was ripped open and a line of blood was welling in a long cut down the calf of his leg.
"Shit, kid," Eggie said. "You hurt?"
"What? Afraid of losing your best slave?" Greg said. He brushed gravel out of the cut and scowled up at Eggie.
"I'm afraid of your father coming after me for your medical bills, you little bastard. You know what doctors charge? Whatever they damn well please, 'cause they know you got no other option. Bunch of greedy bloodkites."
The kid's face suddenly went absolutely still. In the bright sunshine, his eyes looked cold and remote.
"Yeah, right," Greg said. He stood up and limped over to the bike, jerked it upright and pushed it back into the shop. He worked out the rest of his shift doing inventory, with no sound in the shop except the shuffle of his boots on the dirty floor and the beeps of the old ethertab as he entered stock.
Eggie looked out every and now and then, but Greg never turned in his direction.
The kid came in the next day with barely any trace of a limp and a brand-new motor bike tag.
Eggie looked up from the handful of broken jewelry he was getting ready to dump into the small backroom smelter. It was only 10 karat gold, but cheap stuff was easier to sell to the oil crews. Eggie's buyers liked 10 karat just fine.
"How'd you get that?"
"Cut school early," Greg said. "I'm all legal now."
Almost, Eggie thought, and he smiled. "Sure, Greggo," he said.
Greg kept improving the bike, which was rewarding in itself and had the bonus entertainment value of annoying his employer. Eggie didn't really like what he'd done with the thing.
"You know, kid, it often pays to be inconspicuous in my line of work," Eggie said as he frowned at the Nymph.
Almost all Greg's spare time and cash had gone into fixing it up. It had a new coat of gleaming red paint and the saddle had been re-upholstered in soft black leather. He'd sanded every speck of rust off the steel wheels and trim, then buffed the metal until it gleamed.
He doubted it had run this well fifteen years ago when it was new. The engine could now crank out 80kpm on the Oil Town Road straightaway. Yeah, it was dangerous, so after the windstorms hit, he would go out to the greasy, grit-covered curves and practice riding out skids. There'd be no more dumping himself in a parking lot.
The bike was good, and so was he, and Eggie would have to live with that. As long as Eggie was expecting him to run spy missions and illegal errands, then he intended to have the means for a fast getaway.
"I don't want you attracting attention," Eggie said.
"Believe me, Eggie, your reputation precedes you everywhere. I could show up riding a pink dolphin and nobody would even blink."
"I'm talking about the wrong kind of attention," Eggie said. "This time the job's just a little hinky."
"Hinkier than usual? That's impressive."
Eggie pushed the small wooden box across the counter. "Atherton, the gem merchant. The shipment's for him."
"I heard he was dealing in fire agates. Those are contraband."
"You hear more than you should. So a few lawless individuals use 'em for weapon ignition systems," Eggie said. "Until a couple years ago, they were just pretty rocks. Atherton's got some customers who are sentimental about their jewelry."
"Well, explosives are always in style," Greg said. "What are the terms of the pay-off?"
"Ninety thousand gold-cred. Half in cash, half in some ... other merchandise." Eggie looked even more evasive than usual.
"Is it going to fit on the back of the bike?"
"It'll fit in your pocket, Greggo. And if you're smart, you won't open it."
He picked up the box and slipped it into his jacket pocket. "You don't deal in dope, Eggie. You don't want the heat."
"That's right, kid," Eggie said evenly. "You remember that."
He bent low over the bike's handlebars and shifted into the top gear. The engine whined and the cold, gritty wind blasted down the neck of his jacket. He hadn't taken time to snap it shut, just took the envelope from Atherton and counted the notes. Forty-five thousand, right on the nose.
"Mr. Poland's other merchandise," Greg had said, and Atherton held out a second smaller envelope.
Greg tucked both inside his jacket -- taking the opportunity to pinch the smaller envelope between his fingers enough to identify a small, hard rectangle inside -- and zipped it up. Not dope. Information; a crystal of some kind. He'd handled enough of them to know.
"Aren't you going to inspect it?" Atherton asked.
"He knows where to find you," Greg said.
Atherton turned a little pale. "It's all in order," he said quickly.
"Good," Greg said.
His boots made no sound on the thick carpeting that covered the floor of Atherton's house. He let himself out the back door, pulled on his helmet and climbed on the bike.
He'd driven in slowly because he'd never been there before and it was always best to get a lay of the land in a strange situation. Now, convinced that it was a routine transaction after all, he rode back out at the same speed for a different reason.
On the way in, he'd noticed the barn beside the driveway and had seen the silhouettes of ponies in the moonlight. Atherton had several children -- he'd heard the voices of little girls pass by the closed office door while he'd waited for Atherton to appear -- and the animals probably belonged to them.
He'd been nickered at on the inbound trip, and the ponies were waiting for him as he left. The biggest one, whose coat shone silver in the dim light, snorted and took off running along the fence, keeping pace with the bike until the driveway entered the main road and the little horse veered off, unable to follow.
It wasn't that many years ago that he'd slept in his family's own barn, the scent of clean hay and warm, drowsy animals lulling him to sleep, but it seemed like another lifetime. Then they'd had that pretty little acre at Arkhedia, and when that all went to hell they went home again, but not for long. Everything had changed, always changed -- one planet or station, then another, and then they'd come here.
He kicked the bike into second gear and left the ponies behind.
By the time he pulled the bike into Eggie's shop he was tired and chilled to the bone. And starving, as he'd missed dinner to make the trip. He pulled the envelopes out of his jacket and dropped them on the desk in front of Eggie. "The money's all there. The rest I didn't look at."
"Smart boy," Eggie said. He turned around in his creaky desk chair and lifted the coffee pot. "Want a cup?"
"Yeah. Got any food?"
"There's some sandwiches in the fridge. Some pastries from the bakery this morning, but they might be a little dry."
"I don't care," Greg said. He opened the fridge and rummaged while Eggie poured them both a cup of coffee. They both knew that despite the late hour, Greg's working day still wasn't done.