1. In which we meet our heroes

Jesse Silver moved quietly for a big man. At twenty-three, he was as muscular as his junk food intake and nocturnal workout schedule allowed. No-one, seeing him move with exaggerated stealth around the alley’s dirty puddles and broken glass at 1:25 in the morning, would guess he had chronic health problems, or that he was anything but a guy ducking into an alley to unload after too many pitchers at the Brickhouse.

He was not, in truth, scoping a place to take a leak. He wanted to sneak up on his coworker/partner/friend, and as with every time he’d tried, at the last second George turned toward him and waggled a finger.

“You covered in mirrors, or what?” Jesse exclaimed in disgust.

“If you’d had my childhood, nobody could ever sneak up on you. I heard you coming; it’s hard once the glass shards get stuck in your shoes.” George tried to sound sympathetic and smile, but often his intentions were better than his execution.

“You never make a sound when you walk,” Jesse said.

“It’s a gift,” George said, in the self-congratulatory tone Jesse liked least. Then, with more edge, “And I do make noise; I make the floors creak at your place.” For perhaps a tenth of a second, George seemed to vibrate slightly under the cone of orange glare from the sodium vapour streetlight. Jesse blinked and the sensation was gone.

“You okay?”

“Whatever,” Jesse said. “Did you find the apartment?”

“It’s over the Money Mart. There are two exits – not sure where we should park the truck. Our client texted that she thinks her ex will show up any minute.”

“Well, you can use your famous charm on him,” Jesse said.

“We’ll see,” George said. He was a slender, sharp-featured man in his late thirties, dressed as if he’d been at an Edwardian re-enactment and had somehow, in a fit of adventurous befuddlement perhaps, found himself in an alley famous for administering needle sticks to the incautious.

Jesse knew three things about George for certain. He was improbably strong, very smart and imperturbable. As they plied their odd trade, nothing that cops or clients (or their ranting landlords and former lovers) could do, and no hindrance the drunken wreckage drifting out of bars could create, made him lose his good spirits and inventiveness in dealing with problems. He seemed to like problems, although not to the extent of making trouble for himself for bonus points.

George was a piece of work, and Jesse had no clue what motivated him. As far as Jesse knew, George had an independent income and a complacent girlfriend, whom George insisted on referring to as his ‘mate’. She was some sort of difficult, gorgeous creature who apparently made the independent income possible. Jesse had started to think she was imaginary. George hadn’t so much as given her a name, let alone introduced her.

Why George would be okay with sitting in a rental truck for hours while waiting for the client to show and then moving a one bedroom apartment in the middle of the night, for however long they had until they lost the dark and Jesse had to bail, was still a puzzle to Jesse. If he had money he’d never work again. Only an idiot would. No, George was after something else, but Jesse was not able to work out what it was. He’d started to wonder if there was a Greek word for sexual gratification from moving furniture.

And it was a job, and it was a cash job, and it wasn’t every night, so it didn’t dig into Jesse’s personal life too much. He didn’t have much of a personal life, since the diagnosis, but he tried to see his sister and one of his ‘girlfriends’ at least once a week. It was better than collecting disability and feeling that his life was over. He felt like he’d just barely managed to escape from his shitty excuse for a mother. Then, within a few years of his glorious liberation he’d woken up in hospital after an allergic reaction that nearly put a lily in his hand.

Welcome to Vancouver. Here, have some atypical solar urticaria. Being in the sun raised welts all over his body. His eyes would swell; the itching was on a scale he could not have believed if he had not been forced to live through it.

“Oh well,” said one of the many residents who had come past his bed, collecting him like an animé critter, “The sun hardly shines here anyway.”

That was true enough, if you were an ordinary citizen who didn’t consider light overcast to be a death sentence. With tight clothes, and a special mask with special goggles, he could go out in the sun, if he felt like being stopped by the police and glared at by civilians all frickin’ day long. Jesse couldn’t deal with the freak show. He realized freak show was not a good way of expressing his feelings and tried to find a less ‘othering’ way of saying freak show, and settled on circus, even though circuses are supposed to be festive. The words you’re not allowed to say have more traction.

He almost died, but the doctors had nothing to do with that.

It was still hard to be up all night and sleep during the day, and the grogginess and digestive strain of it was made even harder to bear by George’s knack for getting four hours of sleep, whenever he felt like sleeping, and then bouncing out of bed with all the eagerness to face the day of a Labrador pup. Jesse was as energetic as he’d ever be in his life, and George made him feel like he was walking backward.

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Allegra

Born 1958. Not dead yet.

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