Another short story.
I only gave people what they wanted. That was the truth of the matter. As I weighed the bags out in my kitchen, I reflected on the nature of the public service I provided. I should add the caveat that it wasn’t necessarily a service that was entirely legal, but one soon learned that legality does not impact demand – a quick glance at history will tell you that. I scooped another pile of powder into a bag. Five bags were lined up on the counter, meticulously weighed and sorted. Each had a specific destination, but more importantly, each had a specific purpose. It was 8pm, and nearly time for my rounds. The fluorescent lighting flickered, and my reflection stared at me in the window, observing quietly. I looked into its eyes and held their gaze. As I stared, I knew that an observer upon this scene would question just exactly why I appeared to be so content, and that would be a fair question. My house was nothing spectacular; merely another suburban pile of brick and asbestos slowly succumbing to decay. There wasn’t a sports car in my driveway, nor was I particularly handsome, clever, or even well-liked. I possessed none of the qualities deemed necessary to succeed in the world – I was destined to fail, and in the eyes of most I had done exactly that. The electronic scales beeped, telling me that one bag was over-weight. I was the walking C grade, and nothing I ever did would ever be of any consequence. Except, of course, for my work. I stood up from the counter and pushed the bags of into my pocket.
Stars had begun to emerge as I neared the drop-off point, beginning their nightly viewing of the world with sets of cold, indifferent eyes. Yellow light from the city leaked into the sky, staining the clouds amber as I moved with the traffic that rushed along asphalt veins. It was going to be a good night. I pulled my car into an alley, the transmission crunching in protest. The streetlights shone onto the road in flickering halos, casting slithering shadows amongst the abandoned houses and windowless factories. I shoved my car into park and wrenched up the handbrake. Waiting was the worst part. The anticipation spiked my heartrate and shook my hands, forcing drops of acidic sweat through my skin. I savoured it, felt its weight, drank it in. It would be time soon enough. I ran a hand through my hair and checked my clothes. Appearances still mean something, after all. I cranked the window and let the night breathe onto my face with its breath of petrol and gravel. Every night had a distinct scent, an energy separate to others. I was one of the few that could feel it. The rush of the traffic, the organised chaos of the street, intermingling ant lines of people scurrying between their sources of pleasure. A black Mercedes turned into the alley, its headlights cutting through the dark in blinding swipes. A rat scurried along the gutter and disappeared up a drain. I felt for the bag in my pocket, tracing my fingers along its outline. The black car slid up behind mine and stopped. It sat for a moment, its engine growling like an animal caged in steel. I don’t know why they persisted with the façade. We both knew why they were here: I have something they want. I pulled a clear plastic bag out of my pocket and held it up against the light. The white powder shone like crushed diamond. I grinned. You can deal with the devil, but the odds are always stacked.
I swung my car door open and approached the Mercedes. As I neared, a window slid down. A middle-aged man sat in the driver’s seat, his hands clenching the wheel in white-knuckled tension. He looked up at me. His hair was dyed black, far too black. His nose was creased from where he had taken his glasses off. Wrinkles had begun to spread from his eyes like spider webs. Despite our efforts, we are all creatures of decay. I glanced over his car. Powerful or not, universal truth is uncaring.
‘Good evening’ he said.
‘Hello, sir,’ I said. I liked to keep things formal. We both knew our roles, and we would play them.
‘Nice night tonight,’ he said, drumming his fingers on the wheel.
‘Yes, it is. Very warm. A good night for a walk,’ I said.
He darted his eyes to mine.
‘Do you have it?’ he said.
I pulled the bag from my pocket and held it up. His breath quickened at the sight.
He held a wad of notes out through the window. I reached for them, and touched the knuckles of his hand. He recoiled.
‘Hey, relax,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to bite. You’re one of my best customers, after all.’ I smiled, like rotten fruit.
‘I know, I know,’ he said. ‘I’m just a bit jumpy.’
‘Aren’t we all,’ I said. I placed the bag in his hand and took the money. He snatched his arm back inside the car and put it into gear.
‘You have a good night, Councillor.’
The man froze. No doubt electric bolts of panic were now shooting through his head, as the realisation dawned that I knew who he was. He was a powerful man, the chair of the city council. He was wealthy, in possession of vast governmental contacts, and was confident that he had secured his place at the top. For a man like him, venal lies were his native tongue, and he was exceedingly good at what he did. Yet, he had merely done what he needed to. A dedicated family man, he dearly loved his wife, and his children. One solitary vice could never bring him down.
‘Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me, ‘ I whispered with a wink.
He sped away in a screech of burning rubber and gravel. I watched as he disappeared into the dark. His hubcaps cost more than my car, so perhaps this was fair. After all, for some things, everyone pays the same price.
That morning, I tied a robe around my waist as I walked to the footpath to collect the paper. I had slept well, a black and dreamless void that was the closest thing on earth to heaven that I could imagine. The yard was overgrown with weeds, snaking over every surface and burying them beneath a tangle of thorny vines. They pierced the flaking weatherboards and buried their way through windows, but I would not remove them. I admired their blind desire to survive, forcing their way through whatever obstacle they may encounter, free from compassion or mercy in pursuit of a singular goal. Fence palings lay on the ground, rotten with age. The gate swung closed behind me, gouging the concrete. I rubbed my eyes as I sat down at the kitchen table. A plunger of coffee steamed on the counter. I flipped open the paper, and scanned the front page. ‘Counciller Ryan Found Dead’ the headline stated in bold black. Now that was interesting. ‘Prominent local businessman and chair of the city council Peter Ryan has been found dead,’ the article continued. ‘Ryan’s body was found inside his car by his wife this morning. No cause of death has been identified thus far. Tributes have begun to flow for the tragic loss of one of our most prominent local figures. He was 46.’ I placed the paper down and poured a cup of coffee. It hadn’t taken much. Just a few milligrams more, and this was the result. The sun began to break through the kitchen blinds in shafts of golden light. It had taken me a while to find the right additives to ensure the desired result, but eventually I had perfected it. Councillor Peter Ryan was just the latest in a long list of those brought low by a deviance of only a few milligrams, and he would not be the last. I killed them all, and my conscience was clear. I only gave them what they wanted. I lined up the bags on the counter. Tonight would be another busy night.