Emily watched him take the cartridge. As far as she knew the thing worked by magic.
Magic and a needle.
Emily didn’t mind needles, same as she didn’t mind these hotels with all-night karaoke and lousy sound-proofing. Hotels where all you had for company in the wee, lonely hours of the morning were junkies wailing “Endless Love” and the sound of your neighbors fucking. Once upon a time she’d spent long, sleepless nights in hotels like this, watching roaches scuttle across the ceiling, adrift on a rolling sea of feel-good.
Fulton stuck the cartridge between his teeth as he rolled up his sleeves.
Why bother with the sleeves? Unless he had a port on the inside of his elbow. Tech wasn’t Emily’s department but she knew it was all the rage to get the port on the inside of your arm. Made it look like you were shooting dope every time you popped in a disc.
“I sweat when I plug in,” Fulton said, to no one in particular, as if he’d read her mind.
Appearance-wise he could have been any nerd off the street. He wore a simple white button-down and dark slacks. Pretty much anyone could pull it off. Even this was impressive compared to the techs Emily worked with. Collars were their kryptonite. That and shaving. She guessed Fulton’s wife had invested serious time and effort in cleaning him up. Unfortunately the change hadn’t entirely taken.
His shirt was wrinkled.
That set tiny hairs on the back of Emily’s neck tingling. It would have earned her a beating in basic (Is that a fucking smudge on that button, Number Eleven?).
Fulton worked tiny buttons along the body of the cartridge. A green LED light winked on. He reached round the base of his neck with his free hand and began probing with two fingers.
No scar. He couldn’t pop discs too often.
The deft, probing motions took Emily back to Syria, to the twelve-year old who worked as a minesweeper. The kid lay flat on his stomach working the ground in front of him with a nasty-looking combat knife. Whenever he found mines he dug them up and dismantled them himself, using the knife tip like a screwdriver. He was Sunni. An Alawite death squad had massacred his family. Not only mother, father, brothers and sisters but uncles, aunts and cousins, too. They’d wiped out his entire village. As far as anyone knew the kid was the only one left out of his entire family tree. Nothing scared him. Not capture. Not torture. Not death. Certainly not little metal boxes with the capacity to horribly maim.
Because when you’ve watched everyone you’ve ever loved get machine-gunned to pieces, what was left to fear?
Emily knew something about that herself.
Finally Fulton found the port in his neck. He held a finger there to mark the spot while he stuck the cartridge up against it. He pressed a button. The cartridge clicked. Fulton winced then pocketed the device. “Dial in straight away?” he asked.
“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Emily replied. Not the first time she’d said that to a man with a needle in his neck. She might have said it a thousand times before. That phase of her life remained shrouded in a thick mental fog, a soupy blend of memory and hallucination.
If the disc held a hot dose Fulton would start convulsing immediately. Vomit would bubble from the corners of his mouth and dribble down his chin as his brain fried. Emily had seen this happen exactly once. A field tech dove into some intel without any kind of once-over. Turned out it was booby-trapped. A hot dose cooked him instantly. Emily remembered him blinking over and over, spitting up blood as he jerked around on the ground like a landed fish.
She was naïve then. She thought he might come out of it. No more. If Fulton caught a hot dose she’d put a bullet in his head. She’d make it easy for him.
Emily touched her palm to the gun holstered beneath her coat.
Across the room the broker tensed visibly. His eyes locked onto her hand and stayed there.
Instead of vomiting his guts out Fulton leaned back onto the bed. His eyes rolled up. His attention went beyond Emily, beyond the room, far from the muffled sounds of bad sex and antique slot machines.
He was in The Zone.