A car zipped past a few inches from his head, the quickly vanishing blue metal having all his attention. Bradley Johansson couldn’t believe his eyes.
Someone jolted him out of his reverie, and he came back to his senses, the subdued clamour of his environs rising up around him once again. The whores of the night mistook his incredulity for awe, feeling him up as he dodged one after another as he spanned the alley. Once on the other side, the walls fell off on either side to a long road, the sea frothing and foaming on the other side, beyond the low grille. He turned to his right and maintained his pace, not letting the wondrous decadence of New City turn him from his path.
The cars continued to shoot past him with their screaming blue and red lights, the buildings were also unfortunately aglow with similar hues. Stars were no longer a sight to behold, perhaps to even have romantic walks under, and the enchantingly platinum light of Anarion was nowhere to be found in the hearts of blacksmiths and poets alike. This was the misbegotten anarchy of an ill-advised nuclear holocaust, but nothing could be done now.
Or so they had thought, the gypsies and nomads of the world, agglutinating like sticky oil stains simply because nobody was an urchin if everybody were urchins. A smile lit up on Bradley Johansson’s smooth peachy face. He kept walking, but the more and more he thought about his task tonight, the less and less became the pain in his calves, the greater the eagerness to keep moving.
A cold but salty draft wafted his way and he breathed deeply, the saline pungency cloying at his lungs. Without missing a beat, his nose wrinkled as he reached within his coat, looking for the pack of Lucky Strikes he’d remembered at the last minute to bring along. When the cigarette was found, the lighter was not; frantic, he stopped and looked around, and just then, his gaze locked with a young girl’s, standing a few feet behind him.
She couldn’t have been more than 16 even though her height said otherwise, the depthlessness of her eyes being a giveaway. Or, he thought, she’s psychotic – they were quite common these days, what with crime being a pleasurable pastime for a small fee. Before he could ask, she reached a flickering Zippo to his lips, and he partook of the flame. Not a word spoken, not a word offered. He drew a deep breath, the fumes billowing in translucent clouds as he held himself from blowing into her face. Not that she would have minded, though.
She was wearing a tight T, the sleeves rolled back to her shoulders, slender bony arms tucked into the waistband of her beige hotpants. Muttering a word of thanks at someone who looked eager to begin a life of being a spoor, Bradley Johansson turned and began to walk again, toying with the damp cigarette while his mind began to whir again with a hairtrigger expediency that only came with indifference to one’s health.
Reflected in the mercurial faces of a hundred mirrors draped over the shoulders of a prostitute, he caught a movement of gold just behind him. Turning around suddenly, he saw it was the Zippo girl. Had he looked at her for longer than was necessary?
“What do you want?” She didn’t flinch at his sudden volte-face.
She said nothing as her hand slowly uprooted itself from some diamond mine at the meeting of her thighs and rubbed over her crotch, the grease from her fingers leaving a slippery track of peevish nights behind, like she didn’t care much for what happened there if only it brought a strange smile to her face.
His eyes quickly sharpened into slits of anger, not quite appreciating the touch of milky white skin against his own, and the backhanded slap caught her squarely on a breast. She only smiled more, the mischievous glint of some bygone pain visible all too clearly. Bradley Johansson had an idea.
“It’s not just me tonight.”
She nodded. He continued to walk as if he didn’t give a damn – he didn’t – and was not surprised to notice the now-conspicuous tapping of her porcelain heels behind him. She could be a fitting gift to the man who was waiting for him at the end of this road; after all, there was some gratitude due him. A spar of doubt that had been spinning across his mind now came to the fore, but he dismissed it: none but he knew what he carried in his pocket. A minute more, the trees were already thickening on the seaward side to adorn a lush facade of blue-green tassels.
He sashayed mindlessly across the road, drunk drivers yelling after him and his consort. There was a subtle cleft in the sidewalk that pointed into the woods, and he turned into it. He should have known when she didn’t hesitate that she’d been here before, but it slipped past him as the tension in his guts tautened perceptibly when the shack became visible. Well, it was not so much of a shack as it was an old man sitting under a tarpaulin sheet that was strutted skywards by four wooden planks nailed into the ground.
“You have something for me.” It wasn’t a question.
“Plural.” She stepped out of his shadow, still as callous as she had been under the neon beams, the grease visible even under the dull glow of a bulb that hung from a wire that seemed to emerge from Hell. The old man smiled toothlessly, impetuous strands of spittle dribbling past his jowly chin. Voiceless in her obeisance, she stepped past her procurer and towards the “residence”.
In a second followed the stack of micrometre-thick mirabilium crystals, glowing with an electric blue shade of iconoclasm in the night’s grey tones, turning the skin on his fingers purple and the old man annoyed.
“What’re you doing?!”
Smiling, Bradley Johansson dropped them back into the bag that had held them and handed them over to the “party”, known only as Nigel in the trade. The mirabilium would be ground and recrystallized to erase the quarry-signature that would be etched into it by nature’s machinations, and then packed into the core of plastic explosives. Then, they would be redistributed to terrorists across the globe to be used as biological weapons going by the name of “blue bombs” – one blast and all things living would collapse dead in a quarter-mile radius.
With one last nod at the girl, already scarlet and perspiring with extraterrestrial anxiety, he turned around and walked back, slower this time, to the heart of New City, fumbling once more for another cigarette. Again, the need for a flame presented itself, but he was sure he’d find someone in a minute or so, someone who could never understand the pleasure of starlight but knew only the coming and going of nights by the coming and going of irreverent relationships. Soon enough, he was offered a light.
On her lapel, a sham of a red cross was stitched with a border of black. He smiled as the brand came to life, throwing a dull orange glow across her lips. “Doctor mirabilis, indeed!” Tonight, miracles would be worked to restore mankind’s stature in the eyes of the Captors, a deluge of death was going to descend on the non-believers, and the name of Bradley Johansson had to be screamed into the night with fitting ecstasy.
Their gazes locked, and he blew the smoke into her eyes. She smiled.