Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest
For details of the contest, head here. And if you're wondering, then I'll tell you.
Yes, Jason Duke is that crazy.
I've put a price on things you wouldn't believe. Now, I can tell you how much my conscience is worth...
Callard rubbed the flash drive like a lucky rabbit’s foot. “Your name’s Defoe?”
It wasn’t, but that’s how Hargrove knew me. Hargrove arranged the meet and it was Hargrove’s boat that took us up the coast. “It is,” I said.
“And you’re like a middleman?”
“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”
Hargrove came from below with two bottles of Stella Artois. He said, “I did.” He handed Callard his beer, then the tall man moved across the deck.
Callard stuck the flash drive in his shirt pocket. His face read late 30s. His clothes read maybe 20. He tipped his beer then said, “I want you to explain it to me.”
“I get people things.” I lit a smoke. Hargrove clinked his bottle against the railing. At the gesture, I opened the ashtray in the armrest. “Things they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
“Services, collectables,” I said.
“Comics and toys? Classic cars? What?”
He waited for more. He would have kept waiting if he hadn’t said, “Alright, I get you.”
“Your turn,” I said.
“I have pictures for sale.”
“What kind of pictures?”
“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”
“I want you to explain it to me.”
Hargrove chuckled. Callard eyeballed him until he turned to laugh at the sea. We both watched his shoulders moving, his laugh lost in wave slap and gull cry.
“I work airport security,” Callard said. “Monitoring the full-body scan.”
“The pictures are from the scanner?”
“Yeah.” The way he said it, it sounded more like a noise than a word.
“Those images aren’t secure?”
“By me and that’s just enough to make an argument for maintaining privacy.”
Callard sat. “It’s like this.” He conducted his word flow with the bottle. “I sit in a room away from the scanner and work the monitor. I can’t see the person in real life. They walk up, step in the scanner.” He made science fiction noises. “Then, image pops on my screen. I push a button—green or red, proceed or detain.”
Callard leaned against the rear of the boat. He stuck the bottle between his legs and lit a cigarette of his own. More for the necessary pause and our accompanying wait than any urgent nic-fix. His transparency was contemptuous. I ground my own cigarette out and closed the ashtray. His bench didn’t have one. I laid my hand across mine.
Cultivating a long ash, he hid his smile in the smoke from the hotboxed cigarette. I saw it even before he ashed over the side and a breeze rolled over Hargrove and across the deck, scattering the haze. “The machine blurs faces,” he said. “Used to blur your junk until that guy in London smuggled the pea shooter next to his pee shooter.”
“It saves the images?”
“They’ll tell you no. But it does.”
“Evidence,” Hargrove said.
“Yeah,” Callard said. “We’re just not supposed to access them.”
“They don’t monitor—“
“Honor system.” He finished the smoke in two drags and sailed it over the side. “I passed a psych exam and a background check—I wouldn’t steal.” He laughed, finished his beer and sent the bottle after the cigarette. He started below deck.
Hargrove stopped him. “I got it.”
“Alright.” At me, he said, “Your turn. You get people things, huh? Why does that mean I should sell what I got to you?”
“I work for people with disposable income. They spend that income on the sorts of things people usually spend that income on—cars, clothes—“
“Boats?” He asked the returning Hargrove.
Hargrove ignored him and returned to the railing.
“Over time they grow bored,” I continued. “They want something no one else has.”
“And you get it for them?”
“Or people approach me with things. Usually, I’ll know who’d want what. If not immediately, I can always find someone.”
“So you’re a salesman? A deal maker? A gopher? What do you call yourself?”
“Just Defoe,” I lied.
“He’s like a concierge,” Hargrove said.
“Then you’ll like this, Mr. Concierge. Go ahead and ring the goddamned penthouse suite.”
I expected the flash drive. I got an envelope.
Callard mistook my pause for excitement. “Go on,” he said. I unfastened the clasps. The bottle clinked against his teeth. “Bet you always wondered if her tits are real.”
I removed the photo.
I hadn’t and they weren’t.
“You thought you’d never see her naked.” He waved Hargrove over. “Have a look at what it takes to pull down 15 million a picture.”
I handed Hargrove the photo.
“It’s a little disconcerting,” he said. “No clothes. Skin ghostly. Faint lines of musculature underneath.”
“Her abdominals,” I said.
Callard took the photo back. “Fuck the core. Look at those thighs.” His eyes raced to his favorite spots. “Just wish the scan left the hair. I want to know if she shaves.”
“Not usually what I trade in, but I can sell it,” I told him.
“Not as much as you’d like.”
“Why the hell not?” Callard said, looking at Hargrove.
“It’s not enough of either.”
“What’s that mean—enough of either?”
“You have a naked picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. But you can eliminate the scandal rags and the news media.”
“Why? Cause I don’t need you for that shit?”
“Because you have a picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. There will be lawsuits and a criminal investigation. This technology has yet to spread to every airport. Her travel itinerary is well documented. Only a matter of time before they’d track down which airport and which machine took her picture.”
“And which tech,” Hargrove said.
“That’s leaves us with two options.” I took the photo back. “It’s too weird to appeal to the average pervert. Like you, they’d want to know if she shaves.” I shrugged and passed it back. “It’s not weird enough for the true deviants. Maybe if she looked like she had been skinned or something. So—it’s not enough of either.”
“There’s one more option,” Hargrove said.
We both looked.
“Sell it to her.”
“You two are on your own for that,” I told them.
Callard looked at Hargrove with that Happy Meal look. But Hargrove drove on past. “And that option?” He asked me.
“Look, it’s a nudie photograph. That’s it. Not damning enough to guarantee her payment, but with more than enough victim potential to send her to the press and the authorities. Give her a cause to get involved in that doesn’t require any real effort.”
“Fuck, man!” Callard threw his beer against the deck. “You said he’d set me up.” The bottle didn’t break. It rolled over the side.
Hargrove was in insurance, mostly. His company specialized in the big ticket. The items you hired an expert to appraisal and knew even he was guessing. Once a year, one of his clients got robbed. Hargrove sold the loot on the black market, officially wrote it off as a loss, gauged the client on higher rates, and recommended new security measures.
Hargrove owned the security company too.
We met a year ago when his crew found a human skull in a wall safe. Hargrove’s first thought was blackmail. But when the skull dated at 100 plus, he didn’t know what the fuck to do. He asked around and someone recommended me.
I was still living off the cash from Butch Cassidy’s skull when Hargrove called about this new deal. I lit another cigarette. “What else you go?”
He caught the look and lifted the flash drive from his pocket like one of those rigged, prize cranes. “This,” he said, “I don’t need you for. I’ve got a buyer for this. He pays every time.” He stroked the drive with his thumb. “You think the day Ms. Actress’ ass wiggled across the terminal was the first time I ever walked out with pictures? Fuuuuck—no.”
“More pictures then?” I said.
“Of children?” I asked, figuring those were the only other pictures worth something.
He smiled. “Just more pictures. Pictures you don’t want.”
I drug hard on the smoke and looked at Hargrove as he headed back to the wheel. “It’s his property.”
The boat started moving.
Callard stood and watched the foam.
I watched his back.
I've sold a lot of heinous things. But, it only took me two cigarettes and seeing the dock on the horizon before I made the offer. “I’ll buy it.”
“The flash drive.”
“You don’t know what’s on it.”
“I think I do.”
Callard shrugged. “You’re money,” he said. “Let’s see.”
“Don’t have it here.”
“Yeah, fuck you then.”
“I can get it with time. If you walk to my car, I’ve got 40 thousand.”
“I'm not fucking walking to your car." Callard made a gun with his fingers and pointed it at his head.
"Then wait here."
"40 ain't enough.”
Callard named a price.
“Bullshit,” I said.
The boat stopped. “Seems fair,” Hargrove said.
“Fuck you, Hargrove. It’s his property.”
“And I’m still the middle man.”
“Fine,” I said. “It’ll take me some time.”
“I can’t materialized it out of thin air.”
“I thought you got people what they wanted—I want money. So, get it.”
I lit another smoke to keep from hitting him.
Hargrove said. “Wire transfer.”
“Anything over ten draws attention.”
“Not in my account and not from yours.”
I looked at Callard. "You trust him with your money?"
"More than you," he said. “Switzerland?”
“Switzerland is fucked,” I said.
“Somewhere safe,” Hargrove said.
“Excellent,” Hargrove said. "We'll use my satellite phone."
When the deal was done, I walked back to the car and took the laptop out of the truck. I booted it and waited. They were both still onboard the boat.
The computer chirped.
I stuck the flash drive in the USB and lit a smoke.
I checked the boat and double-clicked the icon. A new window popped up. I watched the contents load and caught Callard walking along the pier. Hargrove was casting off again.
The green bar finished. The computer dinged.
I double clicked on the folder.
Callard hit the far parking lot. Hargrove walked back to the helm.
Motherfucker. I drummed the side of the screen.
A car pulled in for Callard. The boat’s engine rumbled and chewed waves.
The folder opened—one picture.
Ash fell on the keyboard. I double…triple…quadruple clicked the jpeg. The picture opened and a middle finger filled the screen.
The car sped off toward the highway. The boat chugged out to sea.
Only the finger remained.
Everything has a price. But I’ll tell you something--my fucking conscience is too goddamned expensive.
For more of the Concierge check out:
The Double D