This is the worst part. The part where I'm standing on a precarious little icy step that doesn't seem entirely stable, leading to some upper-basement studio apartment that doesn't seem entirely clean, and I'm probably, stupidly, going to slip and fall just before they'll answer the door. I won't even get to the part where I have to mumble some half-assed excuse for showing up at ungodly party hours just to ask for a favour. It's not so bad for the eight whopping weeks when we get summer here (then you worry about your stench and the general listlessness of the whole deal), but for the most part it's just like this. The things we do for employment, I guess.
When I left my boss' office it wasn't snowing, but it sure as fuck is now. I had the slip of his DARRYL EVANS stationery with the briefest of notes crammed into my jeans, but I didn't feel like fumbling for it on the street, so I'm carefully unfolding it as I go down the back stairs of the building, re-folding it as I elbow my way out the fire door, and walk into the evening.
Trudging up University sounds like the best course of action. Wide-open, and in this snowstorm no one will want to bear it, and I'll be alone after a fucking 50 hour work week for what seems like the first time.
I pull up my hood, the fake fur already making snowy dreadlocks, and walked through crowds of undergraduate students and, later, into the wooded residential streets to the west. This won't take me long, I'm thinking. Just pay for everything, take a cab back, give him his stuff, and get the hell out of the financial district.
I reach into my coat pocket, and with itchingly cold fingers I pull out the address. After ten minutes the directions take me to a charming-ish Victorian rowhouse, a decaying little clay number with one of those dugout garages that's, yes, converted into a studio apartment with light-up christmas deer. Surprisingly, though, that unit's not the one on my list, and so I walk up the imposingly steep stairs to the entrance - christ, it's dirty- and push the bell.
After a while: the familiarly droll, slightly amused, hazy voice of an unmistakable T'rono weed dealer. "Hello?"
"Yeah, I'm Kate?, I'm hear for Darryl Evans' stuff? He talked to you today?" No matter what people tell you about scoring contraband, this part never gets easier. I never know how to start conversations like this, and they can go either way because either way they sound like you're awkward or brash or trying to get them arrested. Well, two out of three ain't bad. It could be worse, I could be a narc. Which I'm not, by the way. Fuck, it's icy on this step.
"Is that a question, Kate," the electronic voice drawled, like he skipped over the "t" in my name but I can still hear him delivering those words with a smile. My numb fingers, gripped around the front door handle, felt an audible, thick click beneath them, as well as a buzz that opened the door.
I practically slide in from the icy step, gripping the handle for good measure, and wipe my boots as best I could on the mat (which says "GO AWAY" in Edwardian script, for some reason). The main floor of what had once been this house's parlour and dining room were thoughtlessly blocked up into individual units, as have most of them in the Annex, but a hardwood staircase leads me to the second floor landing. There's something blaring from the stereo - Morcheeba? Trip-hop?
I knock a few times on the overpainted metal and white door, number 5.
And then I find myself staring into the most enormous hazel eyes I've ever seen.
(Actually, that's not quite what happened: just the brass spylatch on the door opened. If I were anyone else I would have found it comical, but there was something in those dark eyebrows furrowed over his eyes - brown, ringed with green with short black lashes and kind of angry, that makes you wonder the last time I had looked at a disembodied face that closely. And it suddenly made me wonder when I had last gotten laid).
He opens the door, and he's leaning on the doorway. He must've been bending over when he looked out of the spylatch, because I have to tilt my jaw slightly upwards to see him, baring my throat a little, making me vulnerable while my starved eyes travel past the thin, ripped corduroys and up through a long, lean, broad-shouldered body about my age, actually maybe a bit older, wearing a snug t-shirt.
I waste no time in hiding my feelings but I can't help but stare in my peripheral vision. He seems older, with irritation and amusement in equal measures on his face. Who the fuck am I? He looks impatient, as if he's expecting me to speak - I should say something! But the rapidly rising colour to his cheeks tell me now might not be the time...
It's funny because it's not what I usually go for in a guy. He's got regular features as if they're just mounted on his face, the slightly Slavic swoop under his nostrils echoing his carved upper lip so perfectly it makes me want to cry out. And I have to actually concentrate on breathing, because for some reason that instinct has left me right about now.
I blink, remember to dig out the note from my jeans, and stare at it. The melted snow had bled out the dye from the indigo denim, seeping onto the note. I felt pretty amateurish, staring at this handsome, slightly stoned guy in his doorway entrance.
"Iain?" I asked weakly, reading the note my boss had scrawled over the address. He looks like an Iain, spelt the Scottish way. The painted Victorian heaters in the hall start to rattle and I still can't stare at him.
"Yeah," he says. Avoiding my eyes as well, like I'm an embarrassment.
"Yeah," I say, no doubt totally intelligently. I stare out from under hooded lashes, willing myself to look him in the face without giving anything away. Fuck he looked good. Fuck I'm being an idiot, aren't I?
"You should probably come in, then?" he abruptly turned his back to me and walked into the unit, running his fingers through his hair.
"Is that a question, Iain," I say, deadpan behind his back. I don't know what my intended effect was but there was probably no mirth to be gathered from the fact that I could only see the aforementioned back, the muscles from his shoulders tapering down to that nice thick waist. Are those scratch-marks? A girlfriend, maybe? I bet he gets laid a lot. Does he have a big dick? Shut up just get the stuff and get out, I need to get home before I make an embarrassment of myself!
Angela Chase was right: walking into somebody's house is like walking into another planet. This one's got an affinity for the 1920s, with beehive tiles in the kitchen and leaded glass above every double-hung window. It's fucking shabby, smelling of burnt out weed buds and no mistake, but there's kind of a roughened elegance to the place, and you don't see something like that in an Annex townhouse without some sort of gentrification seeping in. Or a really good drug dealer.
"Fucking cold out there," he says, going into the kitchen with baggies and a scale.
"Some New Years', eh?" I hear from the bedroom. And my heart sinks. A young woman emerges, clomping on platform boots and hugging her too-thin coat around her and she looks about a thousand times more gorgeous than me, naturally.
Of course he's got a girl. Dealers who look this good always have girls, and they're invariably slender and long-haired and chill about everything and have tons of money. Fuck! I have to get out of here in case she gives me the evil eyes.
Iain keeps talking. "Darryl called me this morning, saying he'd send someone. I just didn't expect you to show up so late, and you're not the person he normally sends, so... yeah. You can tell your boss that I want to keep my numbers with him to a minimum, thanks."
All business, then. That's fine. "Look, Sorry-" I begin, but he cuts me off and turns to the girl, who is fluffing her hair and gathering her makeup and pager into a vinyl backpack. She also packs about 60 of the densest E pills I've ever seen inside as well. He whispers to her perfunctorily and I can't make out what he says.
She turns to him, mockingly prim. "Well you have a nice night Iain, I'm off to Bovine. See you, baby!"
As we hear her boots clomp down the stairs and slam the main door, Iain sits on the couch while I settle on the overstuffed armchair. Neither of us speak for a small eternity.
I feel like a damn fool. There's always something an awkward threat surrounding these kinds of dealers: you're at their mercy, they've got a business and security to look after, and you're up shit creek without their blessing, not to mention the weird sexual overlay you get sometimes, like you're doing something doubly illicit.
He fixes me with those hazel eyes, totally unreadable, and then reaches over to the stereo and turns it up. Nice to know he's not too paranoid about me wearing a wire. He would have to find out for himself, of course; he would have to reach over and lay his hands on me... I suddenly become aware of the fact that I didn't wear a proper bra today, my nipples punctuating the fine wool of my sweater, their curves almost obscenely visible when I part the sides of my coat, like I'm doing now. Iain keeps a steady, cold gaze on my own eyes, brown and trusting, which I've always resented.
I try for the obvious. "You have a very pretty girlfriend..."
He glares at me. "Chat's not my girlfriend. And he's not a girl". So much for the obvious. I give up, hot dude, just hand me the stuff and I'll be on my way.
"Take off your watch and place it on the table."
"Take the fucking watch off, or you're not getting shit," he says flatly. He thinks I'm wearing a wire, so he's been burned before, I guess. I oblige but can't help but think why he wouldn't just frisk me... would he do that? Then I remember the thinness of my sweater, thinking he wouldn't have to search far at all.
He takes the watch, tossing it into a bowl of water in the sink.
"HEY! You can't do that!" Christ, at least it's only a little Casio digital and not something that would perish.
"I deal to suppliers, not individuals, you understand? So I let it slide once for this rich prick and he sends you instead. Do you have any idea what that looks like?"
"I didn't know-"
"Please don't try and fuck me."
"I won't try to fuck you."
Silence. My last sentence hangs in the air. Iain looks distractedly at the safe at the side of the room, next to a computer by a corner desk. Back to business: "Yeah, uh, yeah, your guy talked to me this morning. I have 10 blue wasp E and a half-O of the BC bud, which probably isn't BC bud anyway. I couldn't remember anything else. I don't have anything heavier but I can get you a contact tonight if that's what floats his boat. Obviously he has money, so that's not a problem, it seems."
His voice cracks a little, as if it's an effort to push the words out. He grabs a filled Ziploc bag, sits down on the couch and so do I, both of us watching his hands meticulously weight out 0.5 oz of the most sticky sweet 420 I have ever seen, or smelled. He catches me with my eyes half-closed, looking startled.
"Want to smell it?" he asks tentatively. Dear god, how the corners of his mouth pull up to his cheekbones... he's smiling, goddamn it.
"Hell yeah," I say. He begins to hand me a bag. One connoisseur to another. For the briefest of moments our hands touch, before he's ready to let go of the bag and after I grasp it, and it's cool and electric. It's the first time I've ever touched him and it takes both of us by surprise.
"Oh-" he says, his mouth pursed like that for a little longer than the word is spoken. It takes all my available self-restraint not to jump, and so I'm frozen in place until I gently pull the bag away. I take a deep whiff, detecting the buttery-smooth trichomes - sativa, I think - the plant's dried sex juice invading and encircling my nostrils. He's feeling the tip of his finger with his other fingers, like I've branded him.
When I hand him the wad of 20s face-up, I can't but help thinking the Queen's silently mocking us as we try to complete the transaction without touching each other. The pills take considerably shorter to sort out, from another safe that has a lock cylinder, and he spins the dial until he hears the muffled clicks. He tosses a bigger bag to me and it lands in my hands, heavier than I expected. I've never seen so much ecstasy at once. The pills are a deep indigo with the image of a wasp in profile etched into the surface. They're also coated in caranuba wax, like skittles, which you don't see very often, so they go down easy. This might be good stuff; honest to goodness MDMA... Darryl would be proud. I count out twenty and show him.
"So what's your part in this, then?" he asks after a while, his voice softer, a little more democratic.
After a sigh: "I meet Darryl's dealers because he doesn't want to acquaint himself with the more unpleasant aspects of getting his rocks off, like actually scoring. I'm not his personal assistant, I'm just the only person in the office who looks like they'd "hang out with, you know, 'procurers.' " His words.
"I get that, but why would he send you?"
"What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing's wrong with you, believe me," he says. "That's the problem."
"I think I can handle things on my own, thanks." I can smoke you under the table, Iain-spelt-the-Scottish-way. Don't fuck with me.
"You don't want to be like that." His voice is getting hoarse.
"What I want? So what do you want?"
He stands up, leans against the wainscoting, and starts to roll a joint. Danger, Will Robinson. I watch him, silent except for the music on his speakers, while he fumbles with the flimsy rolling paper. His hands are shaking a little as I'm watching the muscles on his bare forearms flex and extend, the thick veins beneath them shimmering under the skin with his minute gestures. Oh, he knows I'm looking at him. Men, my mother always said, lack that extra layer of fat that women have on their limbs, giving men that wonderfully bare, almost raw quality to their veins and muscles. I think, not for the first time, about what those long, strong fingers would look like stuffed into me, getting wet and curving upwards to hit that special spot that makes me scream. I could just about cream for him, working myself on to those fingers...
That's enough, I don't want to make an even bigger fool of myself as I'm liable to. I get up, the contraband in my messenger bag, not sure how to make a painless exit, when he looks at my retreating back and says, "Smoke up with me, Kate."
"I have to go."
"You don't have to go," he says in a voice that causes my stomach to flip.
"I have to."
"Come here," he says, quietly.
He's still holding open the half-rolled joint. I'm frozen for a second, but some reptilian part of my brain moves my body closer, closing the distance between us. My heart's pounding so fast I think I'm going to faint, but I will myself to touch his hands again. I lift them, and the joint up to his face, and by then it's clear what I expect him to do.
He rolls the joint once more with his thumbs, parting those perfect lips, and slides his tongue gently over the delicate paper, that little strip of glue that can disappear forever if you're not careful. He's being deliberately slow, concentrating what he's doing, then when his tongue gets to the opposite end he stares straight at me with those gorgeous hazel eyes, sending a shower of sparks to my pelvis. He's so beautiful I can barely breathe, and he's seeing how much this is turning me on, licking the last swipe of glue from his lips, sucking in the lower lip with his teeth that only serves to accentuate the slight snarl to his upper lip... It's better than most of the kisses I've ever had and make no mistake.
He rolls it into a firm, tight cone, dipping it once into his mouth so it doesn't burn quickly. "Iain, I..." His mouth, still inches from mine, parts and attempts to interrupt or respond or kiss me, I'm not sure at this point. Apparently thinking better of the situation, or not knowing what else to do, he hands the joint to me, clears his throat, and we keep standing, not looking at each other, knowing I have to get back to work soon so my boss could do exactly the same thing with his lust ones. I'm still on the clock, strictly speaking.
With the snow and wind howling outside and battering the windowpanes, Iain and I smoke silently together, the only contact happening when we place our lips where the other had moments previously, on the clean cardboard filter. He smokes cleanly, like me, no saliva. But the smoke curling around his lips, licking them in soft white waves, looks so erotic that I have to laugh to release the tension building up inside me. I can feel the THC crossing the blood/brain barrier, hitting my bloodstream and calming me down. The place has a bay window with a good view of the street, and I see the bubble tea places and club kids huddled in the snowstorm, cramped like old cats.
The J becomes an hourglass, measuring time in puffs of smoke, getting agonizingly shorter and shorter as I know I have to act now. When the embers touch the filter I flick it into the ashtray, my heart and breathing patterns doing I don't know what. We don't look at each other. He smells like smoke and pepper, a salty gingery heat to his sweat that I can't stop taking in.
Slowly, tentatively, he moves further towards me, all but pinning me against the wall. Little shoots of pleasure come from the slight bump my back makes on contact of the old wood panelling, and from out of nowhere I smell some long-ago applied lemon oil. He brings up a hand and tilts my jaw upward, and I slowly press my body to his. We're nicely baked now, and everything feels like it's underwater.
"Can I tell you something," he whispers, his lips an inch from mine. I part my lips to say the affirmative, but now it's my turn to be speechless.
He closes his eyes and tilts my head to the side, and just barely brushes those soft lips against the contours of my ear. I have to close my eyes, the sensation's just too much. I can feel his lips smile as he whispers:
"I come really hard when I'm high."
I arch my back, shivering with pleasure despite myself at the juxtaposition between the vulgarity coming from that tiny whisper. He brings his other hand behind my back, around the back of my neck, twirling the loose strands from my ponytail, still moving his mouth around the outer curves of my ear. It's incomparable, the feeling of my soft breasts against his hard chest, and involuntarily I bring my hands to his hips, hooking my fingers around his belt loops, drawing him even closer to what I can only assume are my completely soaked panties under my jeans. His cock is hard now, straining against the corduroy fabric, ready to burst.
I move my face back to him and under his jawline, feeling the stubble scratch my lips and the tip of my nose. He's moaning softly now, as I'm brushing past the hard Adam's apple and he has to offer his neck to me in order to feel more. I see a faint, faded tattoo by his ear, but I can't make out what it says.
"I don't have long." My voice, muffled in his neck.
"I know. I know."
And, sure enough, I feel that familiarly obnoxious vibrating noise from my pager. The Boss is wondering where the hell I am. Perfect fucking timing.
We break away, our bodies still reaching out for each other but our minds racing to priorities. "May I use your phone?" I ask tonelessly, and he takes me by the hand to the kitchen, smoothing his eyebrows with his middle and ring fingers. Why, of all nights, could this not be a personal house call?
I lift the phone from its cradle and mechanically punch the numbers. As I'm waiting for the ringing tone Iain walks behind me, encircling me. I'm dimly aware of his hands lightly resting on my hipbones. A voice on the other end: