Boy From the County Hell
by Maya Tawi
At the time I was working for a landlord
And he was the meanest bastard that you have ever seen
And to lose a single penny would grieve him awful sore
And he was a miserable bollocks and a bitch's bastard's whore
-The Pogues, "Boys From the County Hell"
Gaireth was pissed. I was screwed.
In other words? A typical day.
"Say that again," he growled. "Slow."
"Sure thing, boss, slow and monosyllabic wins the race. They want more work done, Niets say we give it to them. You got a problem? Take it up with them."
I was speaking as glibly as I could get away with, trying to hide my nerves and not giving him a chance to think. I was betting he wouldn't complain to anyone; if he did and found out I was lying, I was- to quote Beka the Babe- dead, plain and simple.
But I'd made a promise.
Let it not be said that Seamus Harper doesn't keep his bargains if he can get away with it. It's true, but it's still kind of rude to say it.
Believe me, I went over all the options many, many times. There weren't a lot of them. I could ditch Gaireth and the machine shop, but it's not healthy to screw around with protection societies. By the end of the day I'd either have Gaireth's boys after me, or Niets with big guns, or probably both, and I say the hell with that. I could try and leave the city, but the ruling class don't like their lowly subjects moving freely about; border patrols were a serious pain in the ass. If I didn't keep my bargain, Beka would let Bobby kill me, or possibly do it herself. If she didn't, Gaireth would do it for her. And if he didn't, he'd pawn me off to fuck knows who and life wouldn't be worth living anyway, and I'd be back to square one.
For once, the best thing to do was to actually keep my word.
"It's coming out of your pay," Gaireth snapped, having finally processed the concept. It takes him a while.
"Aw, come on," I whined, more for show than anything else. Inside I was doing a five-step swing dance for joy, 'cause I mean, fuck me- he'd actually bought it.
Gaireth jabbed me in the chest. "You have a problem with that, you take it up with the Nietzscheans."
Not bloody likely.
I sauntered into the hangar, froze, dropped the tool chest, and snarled, "What the fuck are you doing here?"
Psycho Bobby just smiled. He was leaning against the side of the ship, his arms folded across a chest not nearly as nice as Beka's, looking very much the dick in his tight leather pants and too-cool-to-look-at-you pilot's shades. "You mean, why don't we just hand you the keys to the candy shop and then bugger off away? Gosh, let me think."
I crouched down and started gathering the scattered tools, still scowling. "Some people should just never attempt sarcasm."
"That's right, mudfoot, just give me an excuse."
"Dream on, loverboy," I shot back, brushing past him and through the ship's doors. "Strap in for boredom. I'd say it'll be mind-numbing, but hey- you don't have a mind."
He followed me, so close he was practically up my ass. "Just keep going, huh? We'll just see how amusing you are when my fist is down your throat."
"Hey, violence is easy. Being this clever takes actual talent."
"What say we find out?"
I turned and looked at him, less than two inches away, the two of us crammed into the Maru's narrow entryway. My heart was pounding, but I kept my voice cool.
"Beka," I said pointedly, "would be very disappointed."
His eyes narrowed, and I felt a sudden jolt of real fear. Maybe sometimes I'm not as smart as I think. If I was, I'd be keeping my mouth shut right about now.
The moment stretched on for way too long, but at the end of it, all he said was, "Get to fuckin' work."
Beka came back just as the sun was setting. Bobby growled something unintelligible to her and stormed off.
"Hey baby," I called cheerfully, from the more-or-less undignified position of flat on my back on the floor. "Miss me?"
She didn't say anything, just stepping over me and making a beeline for her quarters.
"Yeah, same to you," I muttered, and reached up for the control panel again.
A few seconds later she came back, planted her boots on either side of my hips, and said evenly, "Give me the discs, Harper."
I laid down the nanowelder and pushed myself up on my elbows with a grin. "I have no idea what you mean."
"Hand 'em over," she repeated. If her eyes were arctic before, now they were positively glacial.
I jerked one of my elbows to the side. Three discs hit the floor. I blinked, then stared up at her in amazement.
"Lookit that, would ya? How'd those get in here?"
Beka bent down and scooped up the discs, flicking her eyes over them quickly- inspecting for damage, I guess. She spoke almost distractedly, without even looking at me, but her words were deadly serious. "There are two things in this life I hold dear, Harper: the Eureka Maru and my disc collection. If you value your life and limbs, you'll keep your sticky paws off both of 'em."
I shifted slightly, getting a slightly better view in the process. She didn't look like she planned on moving any time soon. "Hard to do that when I'm trying to fix the ship," I pointed out.
Finally, she met my eyes again, and that same corner of her mouth twitched. Don't believe the rumors- she liked me, she really liked me. "Do what you can."
Then she stepped the rest of the way over me and started moving back up to command.
"Interesting that your boyfriend doesn't make that list," I called after her, almost as an afterthought.
She paused just long enough to look back over her shoulder and shoot me a wicked grin. "Interesting how?"
Then she was gone.
I smiled goofily for a while at the place she'd just been. Then I took a deep breath and got back to work.
"Move your ass, Harper, you're days behind."
"Not exactly my fault, is it?" I shot back, dropping a dirty rag on the pile in the corner. Gaireth stood in front of me, like an immovable brick wall with an ass and a bug up it. I made to step around him. He blocked me.
"You're not sleeping tonight till you get caught up," he said flatly. "That may or may not be your problem, but it sure as hell ain't mine."
I narrowed my eyes. "You know, Gaireth, I hate to say it, but I don't see much of a future in this relationship."
Then he did something really bizarre. He actually smiled.
"Well then," he said mildly, "you'd better finish soon, don't you think."
It was in no way a question.
"I dunno," I said, suddenly wary. "Get me a caffeine drip and I'll think about it."
He just pushed past me to the storage room he called his office. I'd almost swear he was humming.
I scowled after him. Gaireth was never in a good mood. Not unless it involved a great deal of money. And if it involved money, I'd know. I've got a sense.
Something was up.
I waited for him to get out of sight, then followed as quietly as I could. I'm pretty good at sneaking around. When you can avoid Nietzschean border patrols while scavenging outisde the city for spare parts, you can follow one big dumb human back to where he thinks he's safe.
By the time I got to his closed door, he was talking to someone on a comms line. I dug a small amplifier out of my tool belt and pressed it up against the door.
"...finishing up this last job," he was saying. "Yeah, well, someone ordered some upgrades.... He wouldn't tell me who. At this point I just don't give a fuck. As long as he's gone soon."
He paused, then: "You found someone? ...Hey, no less than the little shit deserves. Two hundred, right?"
Another pause. "That's what we said. Trust me, it's a bargain. Long as you can handle the attitude."
And that was that. I don't know what else he said. By the time he broke comms, I was already outside the shop and halfway down the block.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Epilogue