With ease, she pulled Draughton back over the ledge and tossed him several feet onto his back. He skipped across the gravel and tore at his flesh and ragged suit. The wind was knocked from him and Draughton gasped for air as the thick wet snow melted on his back and plopped onto his face and into the back of his throat. But for sure, he was back safely back in gravity’s grip.
The gratitude was dulled by the booze, and once mixed with adrenaline turned immediately into rage. He scrambled to his feet. “Who the fuck are you?” he shouted.
The woman’s stride was that of a cat. Her steady gait showed no fear and complete control. Even in Draughton’s drunken rage it occurred to him that she didn’t seem to have the build capable of tossing a grown man ten feet with ease. “You been drinking tonight?” she said.
Draughton gritted his teeth and tried to maintain his balance. His stunted thought process tried to work out who this woman could be. “You the fucking cops?” he shouted. “Cuz I don’t know nothing about what happened down there.”
She pulled up her sunglasses to reveal eyes with crystal irises that flickered in the lights of the city. “Just a concerned citizen.”
“Like hell you are,” he spat. “Now you’re going to tell me who you are and why you followed me up here or else it’s gonna get messy.”
“Name’s Olivia,” she said. “Pleasure. Now please Samuel, why don’t you have a seat before you hurt yourself.”
Search results panged his swollen head. “You’re from the casino,” he said. “Are you the one who hit the roof button?”
Olivia stepped closer, keeping locked on him with her rainbow eyes. “Samuel,” she said. “I’m gonna need you to sit down.”
“How do you know my name?” He shouted. “What do you want?” Once entering his space, Draughton tried to shove her, but like a shadow, she stepped aside and grabbed his arm. Using his own force, she elegantly planted him on his face in the slushy rubble. She released him and took a step away. As quickly as Draughton could, he scrambled up to his hands and knees. Olivia dug her high heeled boot into his back. “Once again Samuel,” she said. “I’m going to need you to sit down.”
Draughton sneered at her. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I think you’re misinterpreting the situation,” said Olivia, digging her heel into his ribs.
“But you best be fucking off about now or I’m about to. If you’re coming for money, I don’t got it. You’ll have to kill me and I’ll make it messy for you. Already showed I’m ready to die tonight.”
“Looked a lot like you slipped,” she said.
“I was going to do it,” he said into the snow. His nose was bleeding and dripping down into the ugly taupe colored slush and dispersing into it. His shoulder shook and could barely support his weight. It hurt from almost being ripped out of the socket. “That’s how it was supposed to go.”
“Seems a lot like a second chance to me” Olivia said. Draughton didn’t answer. “So why not just hear what I have to say? Then you can go back on that ledge and finish whatever business was supposed to happen tonight.”
The rage flared up inside Draughton’s bloodstream again and he swiped her boot off his back. He gained his feet and squared up. “I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart. And you can tell your boss or whoever sent you that he can bugger himself.”
She lowered her sunglasses. Cooly, she said, pronouncing every syllable, “I’m not going to say this again. Sit down or I will make your ass sit down.”
Before she could finish her sentence, Draughton already took his step. It was wobbly, but he thought the element of surprise would compensate. He came over the top with the hardest right he could muster. Olivia took her step instants ahead of him. She rolled the swing over with her right forearm. Draughton anticipated this however and tried to follow up with a left hook. What he couldn’t anticipate was the speed with which Olivia chopped his wrist with her free hand. Draughton never saw the elbow coming. It was fast and mean and landed hard across his jaw.
He had the sensation of standing in gelatin, and crumpled onto the floor, ass first. She had indeed made him sit down.
The world swirled around him, but an unexpected sobriety settled on him, however, not enough to stop him from puking into his lap. Quickly afterward, his senses returned. His anger dispersed, as he wiped bile from his mouth. “Hell of a hook, honey,” he said, looking down, shaking his head, and blinking his eyes. “Hell of a hook.”
She squatted down next to him and looked him in the eyes. She pushed her glasses onto her head, examining him with her crystal eyes. “Samuel,” she said, “You know why you were on that ledge?”
He thought it was obvious, but the way she asked the question made him really think about it.
He looked down at his boots speckled with vomit. “Trying to kill myself,” he said.
“Of course. But why”
“Honestly?” he said. “Not really. It’s complicated.”
“I know why,” she said cooly.
He snapped to look at her. His eyes squinted. “Why was I on the ledge?”
“Because you fucked up,” she said, almost in a whisper. “Because after everything you’ve done, you’re still nowhere. The shop’s gone. The deal fell through. You gambled and pissed and whored away the savings. And now you’re on the roof of a building with people wanting to kill you downstairs, with more people wanting to kill you on the way. And what do you care? You don’t have anything left to live for. You’ve failed at everything you’ve tried and now you live like a rat hiding in rubble from the dogs who want to swallow you up. You. Fucked. Up.”
A sick smile cracked Draughton’s face. He nodded almost whimsically. “Well,” he said. “You’re not wrong. Really only leaves one question: Who in God’s name are you?”
Olivia stared at him for a moment. Perfectly still. Then she smiled. She reached for her bag nearby in the slushy snow and made her way through it with deft fingers. She produced a silver case and popped it open with her thumb. It revealed an array of expensive looking cigarettes. She took two with her teeth and dropped the case back into the bag, quickly replacing it with a lighter. She lit them both and placed one between Draughton’s bloody lips.
With the other, she stood and stepped away to a nearby awning to get out of the snow. “I,” she said, “am a representative of The White Fire Corporation. We have a job for you.”
Draughton took a drag and nodded. “Yeah well, I’m the fucking Easter Bunny.”
Olivia laughed a perfect laugh. Her crystal eyes flared. “How else would I know so much about you?”
“I don’t know, because you’re a creep?”
Olivia continued to smile. “Mighty cheery for a man insisting that he would take his life tonight.”
“You tell good jokes. Appreciate you lightening the mood.” He dragged his cigarette to collect his thoughts. “You wanted me to hear you out, so you’re on the clock. I charge by the minute. Please convince me why I should believe that you’re an agent for the widest spread, most profitable mercenary corps in the galaxy, coming to talk to a drunk, on-the-run arts broker?”
“Because we both know that you’re not an art broker,” she said. “I don’t need giddy clearance to figure that out.”
“Then what am I?” Draughton spat.
Olivia puffed her cigarette and blew the smoke into the gloomy, wet wind. “Don’t you know?” Draughton responded with silence. Honestly, the question bothered him, but Olivia rescued him by answering. “Your dossier shows an acute knowledge of arcane artifacts. Artifacts that you peddle to wealthy donors claiming them to be,” she paused. “Magical.”
“That illegal?” Draughton began to take offense, despite knowing that is exactly what he did. He didn’t like her phrasing or tone. “Some rich old men want some swords, jewelry, and statues. Some of those things have some stories attached to them. White Fire take issue with that?”
“So you believe me?” Olivia said.
“Think we all could appreciate a little role play. Even if you aren’t White Fire, you have a certain amount of influence or influential people behind you. I’m not willing to call your bluff on having GID clearances. Besides, where else could you get those mods you’ve got.”
She smiled. “Did the eyes give me away?”
“Definitely a start,” he said. “But didn’t expect someone your weight to throw punches like that. I’m not bad in a fight. I’ve taken bigger men while I was drunker. I’m smart enough to know when I’m out classed.”
“We’ve found something,” Olivia said, cutting to the chase. “And we need someone to take a look at it.”
Draughton waved his hand and flicked ashes in her direction. “Call some fucking historic society. Isn’t there some bureau or college that you could pour a billion credits into and dig it up.”
“Mainstream can’t know about it. We need someone without any ties but knows their way around the field.”
“Someone expendable?” Draughton barked.
“Exactly,” she said.
Draughton chuckled. “This is getting ridiculous. It’s not like you found the Umbra Bloom or something.”
Olivia released another plume of smoke. Her eyebrows raised.
The shadow of Draughton’s rage rolled in his gut, but he didn’t have anything else left. He stomped out his half finished cigarette in the snow with a hiss, and pushed himself to his unsteady feet. “Well, this has been lovely. Thanks for almost killing me and kicking the shit out of me after. Definitely sobered me up. Great story too, real absurdist piece of art. But I have a shuttle to catch-”
“Like I said, Samuel.” Her tone stopped him in his tracks. “You fucked up. Nothing personal, but I think what we learned tonight for the umteenth time is that your way has not been working. The way I see it, you have three options, which is a lot better than you had five minutes ago.
“One:I walk away right now and you finish whatever business you had on that ledge. Unprefered option. Two: I give you a 3000 credit gift to catch a shuttle back to your shitty existence, dodging gangsters and debts. Maybe you rebuild, maybe you figure it out, but ultimately we know where that road leads. That way just brings you right back here to that ledge and we’re back to option one. Or option three: You come with me, I get you cleaned up and a good night of sleep. Then in the morning, we make something out of you. Something that means something more than stealing your food and living a life that we both know that you don’t really believe in. I apologize, but that’s all you have.”
The only feeling that coursed over Draughton’s body was numbness. She was right. Everything she said. He was in a cycle. Maybe it didn’t take him over the edge this time, but next time surely would. If not, definitely the time after that. It was a form of hell. It always ended on the edge of a roof looking down into the city. The last heavy rush of the booze whispered him a bitter thought: The only ones who talk you down are the ones who need you. But being needed was a feeling Draughton hadn’t felt in a long time. Could he trust her? He didn’t really have a choice.
“You calling me desperate?” he said.
“Yes,” she said, almost sad, but stern of face. She flicked her cigarette and straightened her bag. She looked like she was ready to go.
He looked down into his lap and closed his eyes. The smell of vomit soaked his clothes and beard. “Put me up for the night,” Draughton said. “Get me off world and let me get something to eat. Then, I’m out in the morning.”
“Can do,” Olivia said. She walked to him and extended her hand.
Draughton stared at the white glove and up at Olivia. He shook his head in either disbelief or disappointment, or some emotion that he didn’t really know how to name at the moment. “Fucking A.” Begrudgingly, he took it and she helped him to his feet.