Everyone is a media watcher, zombified by the screen and unable to see through its lies. Lola learned this the wrong way. Sure, she's been an outcast from society most of her life, but this isn't some goth club filled with posers wearing black head to toe, criticizing the masses for being sheep. This is rock bottom with roughnecks. No more fictionalized fantasies of how reality functions. No more ludic loops for dopamine kicks. Goodbye shock news on the tube. This is actual survival.
Mom would be so proud, Lola thinks, clutching her handgun with her sweaty fingers. Mom. No. She'd best pay attention to the man sitting across from her. The cartilage is misaligned, covered in red, from whence she pistol-whipped him earlier. Cherry liquid drips from his nose, falling onto the unfinished wooden table, soaking into the grain.
Her mother, it's why she's here. It's why she dragged this man onto the second floor of the abandoned warehouse and zap-strapped him to the chair.
His narrow beading face tightens into a sneer under the clear lightbulb dangling by a chain. That's hate. He cannot see Lola's face as she hides behind the lamp, casting intimidation as best as she can.
"As you know, this ash stuff is taking the world by storm." The man says with an attempted tough-guy tone, reverberating in the darkness. His pitch is too high for the attitude he projects, but he tries. "And no one knows where it comes from. I still don't know where they got it or what the hell it is. Since that night, I just sell it. No way have I tried it. I'm clean now. My kid doesn't need a deadbeat father. Most of the time, I grind it up to disguise it, which makes it look like some charcoal or . . . ash."
"Okay, Chen, how much does it go for?" Lola asks, her voice faking a silvery calm tone. Truthfully, she's as scared as him. She's never interrogated anyone before. His pencil stash above his lip and tacky faded tattoos scattered across his arms make him less of a threat than some of the criminals she's encountered. Though, the white rag tied to his bicep represents the dangerous beast he comes from.
Chen says, "Well, a gram can be two-fifty. It depends on supply and where the cops are at." A pause. The moment holds. "Look, I told you names, everything. We change our meetup spot every time."
Lola slides her gun off the splintered table, away from the open black bag. She tucks the firearm behind her back and reaches for the black bag. The light hints at her pallid skin and the blonde wig that boils her scalp. Chen's eyes squint, trying to get a good look at her. Lola will reveal her face when she wants to.
Her hand goes into the bag and pulls out a flat, leathery, diamond-shaped object. She holds the ash into the light. The diamond is brittle along the edges, and some parts are about to flake off. The core is thicker, stretchy, and holds hydration.
"You said organic?" Lola asks. Despite the brittle edges, it's fresh enough that she can spin the ash between her thumb and index finger. Amazing this was not around until the summer, she thinks. Changes my whole strategy.
"Yeah," Chen says.
"Well, I don't know. It sure as hell isn't made in a lab."
"It's a scale," Lola says.
"A scale? Like a reptile?"
"Yes, dumb shit. You can have them as pets. They are in the wild?"
Chen shifts in his seat, upset that she is belittling him. He says, "Okay, lady, why hasn't the news said anything?"
Lola smirks, placing the ash diamond on the table. She drags the wig off, resting it on her sombre grey cargo pants beside the open burner phone. The cool air touches her sweaty, short hair as she pushes the light away, letting Chen get a good look at her.
He analyzes her up and down. His mouth hangs open, surprised at who she is. Maybe he expected someone older or a little more grizzled and not a girl kicked out of university.
Lola says, "The news knows, but they're part of the game. Everyone is fabricating this bullshit fairytale we live in. Give it time, and some leaks will find their way on the web."
"You're clearly not a cop. What do you want?" Chen asks.
She leans forward. Now, Chen's gaze locks onto the nasty bullet scar on her chest, underneath the left black tank top strap. Lola could have kept her jacket on, but she wants him to see. She wants this lowlife scum to be the message to his employers so they know she's coming for them.
"You street dealers have no idea how deep the Crystal Moths run," Lola says.
Chen doesn't blink, glued to the scar. "Hey, you're that girl, aren't you?"
Lola lets go of the light and sits still. The chain moves in a pendulum motion, casting sharp contrasts on her stone-cold face. Back and forth. Without looking, she grabs the burner phone and dials 911 with her thumb.
"Yeah," Chen says in a deep exhale. "You exposed the cops out west with the video. The Crystal Moth bust in Edmonton with that hashtag YEGman. Fuck me. I almost don't believe it."
"Believe what you want."
"I do. You're the reporter kid with that website people go to. Lola Cabello."
Lola tosses the burner phone onto the table while standing. She throws her leather jacket over her shoulder and clutches the wig. "Cops are on their way," she says.
Chen's face is frozen, looking at the phone. Now, he is aware of its dual functions displayed on the screen. One: dead center of the display shows the dialling of the police. Two: the recording text beside a flashing red dot and a microphone icon in the upper portion of the screen. His skin must be ice cold now, knowing how much he spilled.
She turns and walks towards the dark exit at the far end of the warehouse. With each step onto the cold concrete, the leather boots leave a high click.
"Hey!" Chen shouts.
Keep walking, Lola thinks, exhaling a wave of relief.
"Hey!" Chen shouts again.
She reaches the door, pushes it, and slips into the dust-covered stairwell.
"Don't go west!" Chen's voice is muffled by the door. "They'll kill you!"
She keeps walking under the night light shining through the broken glass windows. The distancing Chen curses her name. Lola's heart tries to climb out of her throat. She can't stop now, for she put this mess into motion. Chen isn't going to be alright. The cops are like the news with profound Crystal Moth influence. That failed recognition started the snowball she's frozen to.
Lola pushes the exit door and hurries down the alleyway, coated with fluffy snow. She slips into her leather jacket and tucks the wig onto her head. Sirens blare, increasing in volume throughout the night metropolis. She'll escape in time, and the cops will take Chen in. They'll hear the whole recording, and with a sliver of luck, an authentic law enforcer will get the evidence.
The probable scenario is a Crystal Moth plug will take care of Chen and the evidence, it's happened to her before, and that is okay. Chen isn't responsible for what happened in Edmonton. He is the message. Every one of these pricks is going to pay for what happened. Lola will make sure of it.
Drug busts give an unmatched rush until you've done them a few hundred times. Even when the intel says this is a big one, on the East Coast in a bleak New Brunswick town, there's no adrenaline.
The province is peaceful to the untrained eye. To the keen, they see that it lacks direction from the government, leading to crime. More often than not, it's the typical things: no funds, drug abuse, domestic violence, robbery, and vandalism. These crimes are interconnected due to the recessive economy. The circumstances force individuals to make unhealthy choices, catching the cops' attention and resulting in busts and jail time.
Already the police task force surrounds the den from the back entrance, the rotting front veranda, and the slanted side door along the cracked sidewalk. It would have been a nice house if it was upkept. These rundown slums are often owned by some lazy landlord who won't maintain the place. They offer rent at a good buck for these low lives because they're in on the drug market selling to their tenants. The druggies won't even know what hit them. When it comes to the law, they're going down.
It's a simple philosophy for Ricardo Iglesias. The thought is reinforced with a deep exhale, suppressing his relatable past. These are people, the types he grew up with. He doesn't care, or so he tells himself, as he guides his unit to the rear entrance with hand signals. The group of six stand alongside the door frame. His partner is behind him, with each RCMP officer breathing steadily, awaiting the next command.
Summer is hell out east. Sweat drizzles on Iglesias's forehead from the sun beaming above in the cloudless sky. Being geared in uniformed armor from head to toe doesn't help either.
Iglesias uses his free hand to command his team to bust the door open. One RCMP officer holds a black battering ram with both hands and hurries to the back entrance. Another officer swings the screen door open as the battering ram arches, colliding with the handle. It bashes through the rotting wood with a snap.
The unit swarms into the dark, wet room, their flashlights beaming into the hallway and stairwell leading to the basement. They can hear the front door burst open, then the side door. Trained RCMP officers each orchestrate their part according to Iglesias's command. It's a beautiful symphony.
"You first," mutters his partner.
"So thoughtful, Beckman," Iglesias says.
"Anytime." A smirk sneaks under Beckman's bushy mustache.
Iglesias heads into the wet room right behind his unit. At the end of the hall is a man running around the corner.
"This is the RCMP! Don't move!" Iglesias's voice booms, bouncing against the hole-infested walls. He inhales through his nose, conserving his breath. A sweet smell seeps into his nostrils. It's the typical scent that comes with a drug house. It's often mixed with piss and feces. This smell is accompanied by a metallic distinction.
"Left!" Beckman says.
Iglesias uses another hand motion, commanding three officers to go with them. He tells the other two to stand their ground, keeping an eye on the rear entrance in case anyone gets a wise idea of escaping. Iglesias guides them through the hallway, meeting with the side entrance squad. Now, seven officers move into the living room and kitchen.
He scans the lower cupboards, under the table, and behind the couch. Nothing. Footsteps stomp to the second floor. The sound is followed by the marching RCMP from the front entrance group.
Iglesias relaxes, keeping his gun pointed down, finger on the trigger. The mint green counter is covered with incomplete dishes. Tiles have fallen off of the backsplash by the sink and of course, more holes in the wall. The paint is chipping and stains trickle to the running boards. Yes, a buffet for the bugs and mice who scurry away.
They always smash holes in the wall, Iglesias thinks. A pointless thought due to his easing state. This is going to be a small bust.
There are trash bags on the floor, a copper-stained mattress on the corner, and dirt everywhere. Now, what's interesting is the yellow kitchen table. There's a glass pipe with a lighter. Beside that is a small baggie with spilled charcoal powder. To the blissful, this would look like smoked dope, meth or ketamine. Iglesias knows it's different. For one, there are no scorched white spots due to flame. The substance is a consistent natural grey.
"Well, this isn't much," Beckman says. "Why did we come here again?"
Iglesias sighs with equal disappointment. "We got the go-ahead from Sergeant Bando. The tip from the intel?"
"The rumour, you mean?" Beckman asks.
"Proving a waste of time," Iglesias says.
"Told you. We should have stuck on Cabello's trail."
"This was supposed to help."
Shouting comes from upstairs.
"Iglesias," Beckman says.
"Inspect the rest of the house," Iglesias commands the units.
He and his partner hurry from the kitchen, through the hallway, and up the stairs. Each step on the burgundy carpet creaks until they reach the second floor. There are two rooms on each side. In front is a bathroom with the lights off and a fresh excrement-funk scent lingering in the air.
The room to the right has the door closed, with two RCMP units standing by the frame, waiting for instructions. Four officers pin a middle-aged woman to the ground in the last room. Her sweat-drenched face is as worn and as dirty as her clothes are.
"He locked himself in," a brunette officer, Archer, says by the closed door.
Iglesias nods. "Get the battering ram here."
The metallic smell is more pungent on the second floor, and it's not from the bathroom. The sweetness is mixed in with rust and the strange fetor of a swamp. In fact, it sends Iglesias's mind a good decade into the past when he used to take his son and former wife to the pet store. There would be walls of aquariums with amphibians and reptiles. That subtle hint makes Iglesias clench his teeth because the memory serves no purpose. He suppresses it. Iglesias needs to keep his mind focused on the bust. Still, this is abnormal, and it is ever prominent in his mind, piercing through his years of training.
The woman shouts inaudible words. Her eyes are puffy and pink as drool seeps down her chin. Beside her is a pipe with smoke and charcoal powder spilled onto the carpet. Her head thrashes wildly. The frizzy hair dangles in her face as she howls like the animal she has become. She ends the fit with a maniacal cackle.
Creaks come from the stairs as the battering ram arrives.
Iglesias says, "Beckman, check the basement with the others."
"Good call," Beckman says before leaving.
Iglesias signals the unit to bust the door. Like the rear entrance, the battering ram slams into the door and sends splintered wood into the air. A frail man stands dead center in the empty room, looking at the closed curtains. His stained grey sweats are worn so low that his hairy ass droops underneath his hoodie. He holds a pipe and lighter in his hand with the flame mid-way to the bowl of charcoal powder. He looks back—a deer in headlights. The RCMP unit rushes in.
"Drop it!" shouts Archer, raising her gun.
He brings the pipe to his lips, flame to the powder, and inhales the drug. The fire morphs into a poisonous purple as his eyes flood with pink, skin somehow turning more blanched than it already was.
"Drop it now!" shouts the other officer, his gun pointed at the man.
The man listens instantly, releasing the lighter and pipe. The items tumble to the ground, and his muscles relax. The head dangles, eying the speckles on the ceiling. A gentle laughter rumbles from his stomach as he sways.