There was a girl before him with grey eyes. Her hair fell against his shoulder as she leaned in to whisper to him. It's forty for the first hit, and seventy following, she said. The room around them swelled in his head, spun slowly as he drew away from her foxlike face. Her eyes took up all the space, a spreading mass of discoloured grey that seemed to light over the writhing dancers on the dancefloor a few feet away. Forty dollars was a lot of fucking money. What had she called it? Luxe, pretty poison.
The couch the two were sitting on squirmed underneath him. And this was a half dose, a light taste she'd said. He blinked and looked at her hands. They were so thin, breakable and slim-boned. Oh god, he said. She smiled. So will you have any?
He raised one arm, which twisted before him into a pale orange root. The music seemed fetid, solid like turned earth. Away? he heard himself mumble.
How long until it fades away? she said. What I gave you should last another hour I think. Time enough to think about it and decide.
His arm was still outstretched. He had no idea how he could lead the squirmy root to his wallet. He just stared.
Time-next time. Maybe next time.
Her smile was less pleasant, but he couldn't notice. Ah well. I'll be around next week maybe. If you change your mind, love. She stood, and before him she looked like a wilted willow branch. He held the orange root with his other arm and gently drew it towards his lap. His gaze shifted to the dj booth. Even from the couch he could see the dark blue squares and black circles spinning. Re-cords match, he said to himself. The music got thicker around him. His other arm started looking like a silvery leaf. He stared at the leaf and the root and ate the music, mouth opening and closing soundlessly.
The girl watched him as she sipped a club soda at the bar. Whatever he saw must be vivid. Some people couldn't bear the realness and never wanted another try. Others couldn't stay away. She left the bar and went into the second room for awhile to see how this one turned out. She preferred its slower music.
Natalya looked raw today. Anthony watched her gloved fingers scramble against each other in between bites of toast. "Something wrong, hon?"
"I'm fine. Just a little nervous about something I've been working on."
"What does it do?"
"It's an hallucinant, but a unique one. You know how someone does acid or peyote, they're likely to get religious visions?"
"Yeah." She'd worried loose a seam in one of the thin white gloves. He could see a slim dark line, her skin beneath it. She caught his glance and covered the open edge with her other hand.
"The drug I've synthed gives the user very organic visions. Creepy organic visions. All flora," she said.
He looked at her, slightly puzzled. "How do you know the effect's so specific?"
"Tony, I have test subjects. I mean, I can send out for them pretty easily. It worries me. It's addictive."
"Yeah I know. I want to destroy the samples I have left. I can't send this out. It's poison. I don't know what to tell Martin. He'll be by this afternoon to buy from me. I have a couple of other things with nice effects, normal specs. But this, I don't know how to describe it."
"What did the testers say?"
She stared down at her plate and its piece of toast crust. She flicked a look at him, then removed her gloves. Her hands were slim, strong, delicately brown. He had not seen them uncovered in years. She stood up, went around to his side of the polished glass table. Her hand on his shoulder, he rose with her. "The notes are in my lab. Come on."
Appleseeds. Pretty pink, deluxe poison. De-luxe, the junkie had said to her, last words she saw him speak. He'd slipped her a double handful of coloured pills, his lips bubbling saliva as he spoke. Then his eyes had lost focus and he'd swallowed three times. His limbs went boneless as he'd slumped to the floor.
She sipped at a second club soda and finger-counted the pills in her left pocket. An even dozen left of fifty. The first ten she'd sold at fifteen per, using scrapings into a glass of water as samples. After seeing what happened, she'd raised the price. Now she needed more, and had no idea where to find a new supply. She wondered what the boy would look like if the partial dose took and he came back later, when she was cleaned out. She wondered how her earlier buyers would look, what they might do to her.
As she took a sip of her drink, a root choked her. She let the drink fall and smiled as she tried to remove his arm from round her neck. She'd have at least one new buyer before the supply ran out.
As they went down into the basement together, Natalya's hand moved from his shoulder to his arm, the fingertips barely touching his sleeve. Her lab was sterile, nearly scentless. She was a step ahead of him, her hand trailing behind to touch him. He wanted to touch it. At the foot of the steps, she turned to face him, lowering her hand. Her eyes were wet.
"The notes are over there," she said, pointing to a small ivory table covered in green strips of paper.
"Why green? Oh," he said when her face tightened. "Floral effects."
She nodded and walked over to the table. "They'd only write on green paper, or dictate to me if I wrote on it. And never fake-looking green." The slips on the table looked like thin leaves from a fern.
Anthony picked up some of the papers and read them. "Jesus. They wanted plant food? Pots? This is pretty fucked up, Nat. I've heard of people getting this delusional, but it's like they all had the same kind of hyperreal visions."
"If you look at a few more of them, you'll see not everyone wanted to take it a second time. It didn't always cause a physical addiction. But look at some of the side effects of the ones who did want more doses." She pointed to a heap of green slips the colour of mown grass, paler than the ones he held.
"Could use a better sorting system."
She smiled a little. "I'm working on it. Just old bad habit."
"They bled green? Vomiting, nausea, paranoia, attacking you? Why didn't you mention that then? These notes are four fucking weeks old!"
She looked down, clasping her hands. "I had assistance when I did the human testing. Martin sent a couple of guys over just in case. He always does for the human testing. I thought you knew."
"I didn't know anything you made had violent side effects."
"Usually no, but I can't guarantee my first synthesis will turn up a clean result. Once in awhile I have to rework something I thought would be ok because it fucked up a subject. Tony, there hasn't ever been anything like this, that I've made or that exists in nature. I mean, as far as I know. It makes--changes in the body, changes that are fucking bizarre."
"And dangerous. Every withdrawal effect you can have these poor fucks got almost, and all this freakish stuff added in."
"One of them died a few days ago. Jon was a heroin junkie. I had him on my synth heroin and he was getting better, looking for work, trying to get his life settled again. He came in to try this out as a favor to me. I'm scared, Tony. I don't know how I found this, made it."
She was crying. He dropped the papers on the table and went to put an arm round her. She let him. "His skin started changing. The colour and texture--" she let the sentence end and held onto him.
"Nat, look, why don't you just destroy what's left of it now? No point keeping it around if its effects are so bad."
"Maybe I should give it up."
The dj looked over at the girl being attacked and stepped away from the tables. He resumed his position as the boy's arm uncurled from round the girl's neck. Lover's game, he thought, and turned to search for the next record.
I take it you want more? she said.
His body felt gelid, full of dusky grey sap. He flapped what were now two thickening roots at her and somehow his sproutshoot tongue murmured, Have more?
Do I have more? Love, that dose hasn't quite worn away yet. You'll have to wait a bit. Another half hour at least. Until you think you're human again. She reached out a hand to grasp one of his and he swayed, somehow guided by her to sit down on the velour couch. This was nothing he'd ever tried. His brain was green swimming, wavy with thoughts of sun that was yet to rise.
She wasn't quite sure what they saw while under a luxe-spell, but it always seemed to be something plant-related. Like they imagined themselves trees or some such. It seemed an odd thing to spend freely for, but if she could get more of this, she'd smile and collect as much as she could. But she'd stolen the current batch from Martin. He'd been so fucking drunk that night, showing her a single pill.
"Emily, this is murder right here. Fuckin' death in a hand of dust and shit. I dunno what Vaccaro's wife cooked up this time, but I can't sell it." When she'd asked about it, he'd just looked at her with bleary eyes.
"Emmy, this shit gives people the weirdest fuckin high I've ever seen in a drug. And then they fall over dead after a few hits. Before Vaccaro's wife turned up, I'd sell something that could kill eventually. Heroin, coke, speed. But I never sold nothing that killed every fuckin user after a few hits. This shit does that. I can't sell it. Fuckin Vaccaro's wife." He'd thrown the pill on the ground and stepped on it, mumbling about mashing them all to powder in the fuckin morning. She'd let him stumble to the sofa and pass out. Then she'd taken the blue round container full of pills.
Vaccaro's wife. But he hadn't been married in ten years. She glanced at the nodding boy next to her. She downed her club soda and sold him a pill for seventy five dollars. She left the club, hailed a cab and went home. It was four a.m.
"You don't have to give up your work, Nat," he said.
"It's like I have spent so long making penicillin and then one day made sarin."
She looked into his eyes. She wondered what kind of work his mistress did. He'd taken one last week. There had been a tension the last time he'd taken her out, his eyes sizing up women when he thought she wasn't looking, a hardening in his face every time his eyes fell on her arm-length white gloves. And now this. She could always synth other drugs, this was an anomaly in every way, but he might wonder later if she stopped working over this drug.
"It's just thrown me off, is all. I should get back to work really." She stared into his eyes until he let her go. He wanted to kiss her, but the momentum was lost. She was already across the lab, pouring pills into a blue plastic container. He walked to the low orange table she stood at.
"So that's what they look like?" he said. The pills were tiny, pink baby fingernails.
Martin was waiting at her front door. "What's up, Emmy?"
"Hey," she said. "Where have you been?"
"Could ask you the same."
"I need to get inside."
"Let me see your hands," he said.
She held out shaking hands. "Martin, please," she said.
"What was it?" His eyes were bloodshot green. Natalya had never been able to synth a less harmful ethanol.
"It's five. You should be sleeping."
"Angel kept me up. She's frisky on occasion."
He was sober, then. Emily looked at his hands, lightly curled into fists.
"What was it, Emmy?" he said.
"I took the pink ones, called them Luxe, and unloaded them at a few clubs."
Martin took one of her hands. "Don't lie to me. I disposed of that shit." She looked at him looking back at her. He opened her door and pulled her inside.
"What do you call them?"
"Martin names them usually. This is mainly a lysergic variant, but it's derived from some other hallucinants. Very mixed bag drug." She sighed. "I should call him and tell him I'm not synthing a new batch." She reached into the pocket of her grey lab coat and pulled out a small cell phone. Anthony stared at the pills in the container. He picked one up. He looked up as she got Martin on. Her voice was softer than when she spoke to him.
"It's Ms. Vaccaro. Oh yes, it's finished. I have two other compounds ready, if you'd like to drop by and look them over. Testing finished last week. Well, that's the thing." Her voice rose slightly.
"You can't sell the hallucinant. Yes, I did synth it to your specs, but something's wrong with it. Have you looked at the records?"
"What's wrong?" Anthony said.
"He's just checking notes I sent, the ones you read," she said, one hand over the phone.
"Martin? Ok, do you see the problem? Yes, I'm not making a new batch. Now you can dispose of the current sample any way you like, but I wouldn't recommend putting it on the street."
"Look, you can come over," she said. "Or I could send them over with a boy. Fine. I'll see you in thirty."
She turned off the phone and said Fuck! quietly.
"Nat, he does come over sometimes."
"He's bringing one of his girls, and-and a test case." She wouldn't meet his eyes. He wondered if there would ever be a day he could forget who her clients were.
"I'm surprised you got him so early on a Saturday."
"I bet he was up all night and won't crash til noon. I don't know how he does it after all these years."
Surprising him, she took off her coat. She was wearing a sleeveless blue-grey silk dress. She unpinned her hair and fluffed it. "I'd better go upstairs," she said.
He followed her up the stairs wordlessly. At the head of the stairs, as he came out into the dining room, she kissed his cheek. "Make me an iced coffee, Tony?" she said.
He blinked. "Yeah. I mean. Yeah," he said, pushing past her suddenly, his face reddish.
"All beauty must die."
She looked at Martin as he closed the door. "A song," he said. "Pretty good one. You shouldn't joke about some things, Emily." He sat down on her blue Barcalounger and turned on the television.
"Sit," he said. She blinked, then walked over to her sofa and took a seat.
"What do you want?"
"There's someone I'd like you to meet, dear. She turns out most of what you sell."
"Why do you want me to meet her?"
"She sent over some new product about two weeks ago. Two very nice things, and I already sent Bobbie over. The others swing by when they can. But you sell the most and are a bit specialty, and the new drugs are kind of club stuff more than anything. Since that last batch of weirdness, she just wants to see the dealers for some reason. I can live with that, so long as she keeps working."
"Why are you here so early?"
"I need a fucking nap, angel. And you're the one with the waterbed. I love that shit when I've been up two goddamn days. We head out about twoish, 'k?"
He flicked through a few channels and threw the remote down, then stood up and stretched. He smiled at Emily.
"I'll sleep better. Besides, you look tense. It'll calm you down nice."
"You're a fucker, Martin."
"Indeed I am. Now will you come or do I get to drag you in there?"
Anthony got the door as the bell rang a second time. He opened it to see a man and two women standing in front of it.
"Martin," he said. "And which one's the seller?"
"Madam purple hair here is Emily. She does clubs. Genelle does club drugs. She graciously offered to try a sample of Ms. Vaccaro's latest item."
"Well, come in."
Natalya emerged from the kitchen, sipping at her second iced coffee. "You haven't slept yet Martin," she said, and Anthony was surprised to see him blush.
"I thought I'd try a nap before stopping in, but never got round to it." He reached out a hand to briefly touch the one called Emily, who tensed and smiled faintly.
"I'll fetch the pills from downstairs. Back in a sec." She turned and headed for the lab without a word to either woman. Genelle muttered Bitch under her breath.
"Shut the fuck up," Martin snarled at her, too quietly for Anthony to make out. Anthony tried to smile, but gave it up and asked the three to sit down.
"So what do you do?" Emily asked.
"Computer shit. You do anything else besides deal?"
"Not right now," she said. "Maybe in a year I'll head back to school or something." Martin cut her a look, but said nothing.
Natalya returned with a palmful of the pink pills. "Here it is. Have a look, let Genelle have one if she likes. Wouldn't recommend it though. I mean, you read the reports."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But she insists, don't you dear?"
Genelle looked at the floor as she said, "Yeah. I'm real fuckin eager to try it." With a gesture, Natalya sent Anthony for a glass of water. He brought one back and handed it to Genelle. She downed the pill with a few swallows of water and sat back.
"Give it about five minutes," Natalya said. "Martin?" He stood up and walked over to her. "You're too lovely for orangey there," he said.
"You had to see for yourself."
"Always." She sighed. "Emily looked at them a little too happily."
"She's all about the next sale. Sometimes I have to nip her eagerness in the bud. So to speak," he said, winking at her. In his eyes she saw what scared even longtime criminals. "Where's the rest of it."
"Downstairs. I'll get it now if you want. Keep an eye on that girl."
"Just bring it up."
Anthony watched their tableau, and caught the worried look she flashed him as she went downstairs again, presumably to get more pills. He moved to follow her downstairs, but she mouthed, Stay and his feet fixed themselves to the floor.
"What the fuck?" Emily said. Genelle had begun to cry.
Scarlet coloured sap thick as blood leaked from her belly, which had darkened to a light brown. Her eyes lengthened into stalks, waving in the airconditioned air. She swayed, weeping before them. Natalya could hear, faintly, a droning stream of syllables emerge from her lips. Emily was looking at Genelle as though she'd seen it all before. Martin watched the girl on the couch silently. His face was unlined and calm. Emily glanced at him and waited for it.
"So how much of this is left?" he said.
"What's in this container," Natalya said. Anthony stood some distance away, near enough to her, but not to the willow-waving girl. "Here." She handed Martin the blue container, her ungloved hand shaking slightly.
"It'll be a couple hours, won't it?"
"Four to six until she is completely down from it."
With her curled root hands, she stroked her stalk-eyes. "Em, fuckin hold her," Martin said.
Emily grabbed her arms and pulled Genelle's hands away from her eyes, where she had begun to claw them.
"Christ. Might as well stomp it to powder right here," Anthony said. Martin looked at him steadily. He swallowed. "Whatever. Do what you want with it."
"Nat, just drop the rest when you come by Wednesday. Emmy, grab this bitch. No need for her to wig out further here. And get the pills. Maybe I can find a use for them."
He looked one last time at Natalya, an old question in his eyes. She ran one hand over the other in a gesture like pulling up gloves and said, "Good day, Martin. I'll be down Wednesday at the usual time." Anthony opened the door and Martin and Emily carried Genelle out. The remains of her iced coffee were on the table where the girl had knocked the glass over. Anthony went to get a towel from the kitchen, but when he came back, he heard the door leading down to her lab close and lock. He sighed and wiped up the pale brown liquid spotted with blood.
"What are we going to do with her?"
"I am going to leave her on a pleasant street corner in the blue district. It could use the greenery, I think."
"What did she steal?"
Martin looked at her. "Stop over there and get me some Jack black, Emmy."
Emily pulled into a liquor store by the name of Jo's Packages and left him with the girl, who quietly drooled greenish saliva onto Martin's leather seats. Her stomach contracted with a menstrual regularity. Emily stood there looking at the rows of wine and liquor and selected a party sized bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label whisky. She paid in cash and left without taking her change.
"I'm not sure this'll be enough, hon," he said. She smiled emptily. He took occasional discreet swigs as she drove away from Natalya's neighborhood of renewal Victorians to the blue district. As they passed shop after shop offering sex in printed and physical form, Martin signalled her to stop at an intersection with a broken streetlight. "Here. She can nod next to that guy." Emily parked the car on the sidewalk and they moved the girl out onto the concrete. "Let's go." They left her there. Martin put the top back on the whisky and closed his eyes. She drove to his home.
"I love you," she said.
Martin looked at her face as they sat on a rug in his home. "You are so fucked, you know."
"I was kidding."
"How much fucking money did you get for them at least? Do you just not remember the girl? Or the three guys who died during testing?"
"I got as much as seventy-five. There are a few left at my place."
"You goddamn idiot. You brought them with you, didn't you."
Her eyes welled up, obscuring the grey he had always rather liked. "What's a few bucks on the side? You were going to just get rid of it all."
"Because it's fucking POISON, you stupid bitch. She does not normally make poison for me. And I am willing to let it slide because fuck, I have no idea what's involved in her work. I just know that ninety-nine of a hundred the shit she turns out is clean and safe and reasonable and easy to sell long term. Key words, Emmy. LONG. TERM. I don't want my customer base to die off constantly. Too much fucking work to drum up new business every other week. I figure the least I can do this hundred-time is take her advice and get rid of the shit. And you fucking steal it from me and hawk it under the table. You are so completely fucked," he said again.
She still ached a bit from the morning. "Can't we work it out some way? Lower my cut of anything new?"
He laughed. "Pour me some vodka, Em. And fill the glass with ice." He leaned back against the sofa and propped his elbow on the table next to him. "Christ."
She brought him the vodka and he drank most of it before speaking again. She waited.
"You never dip, do you, honey."
"Martin, please. Shit, I can work free awhile, find you a couple of new girls to work the east side like you've been bitching about all month."
"You look real good with your hair cut that way, you know. Brings out your eyes."
She swallowed, weeping.
Her body crawled with pulsating beetles. Against the dark grainy warmth of soil, she pushed roots into its yielding softness. Tentacle-limbs writhed in the air, seeking the dirt's wet safety. Her flytrap mouth opened and closed as it sought a salty buzz. Oh god, she thought, with the part of her that was still animal flesh. Didn't know this, so dark, could be wet.
Blood, green. He watched her lips bubble out salivawords repeatedly. She was curled in a ball, digging herself into the carpet he'd laid down. It had begun already, and he'd only fed her three days. He blinked as her skin appeared to ripple. A bit too much, he thought, and rubbed his eyes. Hers were grey, with a hint of green. He watched her wriggle a fingertip, cracking the bones as she pushed it into the dirt beneath the carpet.
"Emily," he said. Her head swivelled in his direction, but her eyes were already blindseeking. He flicked open his lighter. She swayed up to the light source. He leaned down to her face. The skin was stretching and changing colour. Her hair had fallen out and grown back, short and sproutlike on her rounded head. "How is it?" he said, flicking off the lighter.
Green, more, more. Sungreenmoremoremore.
"More," she said in a voice thick with saplike moisture.
Martin smiled and dropped a pink pill into her mouth. It dissolved into her. With a shock, her eyes flashed open. They were green. Her skin was grey.
Later, he found her decaying, half buried in the basement. It hardly looked like her, except what remained of her hands. A dozen or so tiny pink fingernails with dirt beneath them.