The bustle of the streets was drowning out any other noise. I could barely hear myself think, there were so many cars and trams running up and down the road. The sun had begun to set an orange tinge over the horizon.
I took a sharp turn into an empty alleyway. “Here I am.” I looked down the dirty and beaten path that lay before me. I felt nostalgic. Tentatively, I stepped further into the alley. This was where my sister had been shot four years ago. I was almost twelve at the time.
I kneeled next to a building, and pulled a brick out of the wall. This was essentially my sister’s grave, because I couldn’t actually afford her a spot in a graveyard. Not in a city this large, anyway
Inside the wall, there were a few things I had left there for her. There were old, dead flowers, a few fake ones, and a couple notes I had jotted down previous years. “I miss you…” The words barely fell off my lips. I felt tears well up in my eyes, and I decided that it was time to leave.
I took a few tiny crystals out of my pockets- most of them were a blue variety of quartz- and placed them into the wall. I replaced the brick and walked away. Within moments, the crowds and the noise of the city had overtaken me once more.
I wove my way through street after street, pushing past crowds going through their day just like I was. They were going from their works to their homes, and vice versa. The sun was on the brink of setting, and my day was just beginning.
I finally got back to my workplace, which doubled as my home. I went to the door around the back, and slid inside. The bar was fairly empty tonight, so I shouldn’t have to worry too much about the police arresting me for being a minor.
I took my place at the counter, already in my uniform, and readjusted myself to the bottles and glasses that surrounded me.
“Hey, kid. Get me a drink, will ya?” I turned and looked at the drunk sitting at the bar. The only one who wasn’t with a friend or at a table. He was here before I left, too. He would probably still be here after I left. “Sure. What do you want?”
The man shrugged. He didn’t have a large build. Then again, neither did I. The tie and shirt he was wearing let me know he probably worked an office job or was a salesman. His wife was probably cheating on him, so he came here to drink away his worries. “I’m getting a little sick of hard liquor. It doesn’t taste that great. Could you mix me something a little better?”
“Right on it, sir.” I pulled a cocktail mixer and some liquids off of the shelf, and started to mix him a drink.
“I actually don’t like alcohol that much. Funny, considering my high tolerance. I’m actually quite sober right now, even though I’m a few shots in. Damn my Irish heritage.” I put his drink in front of him. “Then again, a true Irishman would be furious to see a martini.”
He took a few slow drinks. I stood in front of him. There wasn’t anyone else at the bar, so I needed to tend to this patron. “How did you get in here, kid?”
I shrugged at him. “Push came to shove, I guess.”
He nodded. “I had parental issues myself. I get it, you just need time away. Do you go to school?”
I shook my head. “I tried for a while, but school clashed with my time working here. This is a night shift, and school happens during the day” The stranger nodded.
“Ah, so you’re already quite a hard worker. That’s a wonderful trait to see in our youth. See, most kids just complain about how unfair the world is. I used to be one of them, so I know. Listen, you want off of the streets? You want out of the bar? I’ve got a deal for you. You want to hear it?”
This man had misinterpreted what I said. I didn’t have parental problems. It’s hard to have parental problems without parents. I didn’t just run away from some random home, and I’m not just here to get away for a while.
“Sorry, sir, but I’ll have to deny your offer.”
He laughed heartily. “I haven’t even made an offer yet. Hell, speaking of things I haven’t offered, my name is Guy. You mind telling me yours?”
“Quartz. My name is Quartz.” He finished his martini, then slid the glass to me.
“That was a marvelous drink. Make me another, will you?” I nodded, and mixed him another. “So your parents must enjoy gems. Are they hippies?” He chuckled, “All joking aside, do they?”
I shook my head. “My sister named me. She was a few years older than me. I didn’t actually know my mother. She gave birth to me outside of a hospital, then left me on the porch of a fire station.” When I thought about it, I didn’t actually know if my sister and I were really related. Neither of us had last names, and she was named by another stranger. “I met my sister in an orphanage.”
The man had a more serious look to his face. “I apologise for my rudeness. I didn’t know.” Neither of us spoke. He took a few more sips of his drink. “That’s kind of ironic. You go to the orphanage to get adopted, and yet you two adopted each other. Did your sister have red hair, too?” I nodded.
“Rough situation, friend. Where is your sister now?”
“Dead. She was shot in an alley. The police called it gang violence. Really, none of us know what it really was.”
“Real sad. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she adopted you when she was eighteen?” I nodded. “You know something most of the other saps around here don’t. True loss. I could see it in your eyes when you walked in. Did you just finish visiting her grave?” I looked at my feet, nodded weakly. “That’s tragic.”
The man finished his drink. “Now I’ll ask again. Do you want to hear my deal?” I shrugged.
“I don’t see why not. Fire away.”
“I’m looking for some kids to help me out with a certain project; Adults have developed physically too much for what we’re trying to achieve. You look perfect for the part. What do you say?” He put out his hand.
“I’m not gullible. You haven’t told me what you intend to do with me. It’s probably shady.” He pulled his hand upward. “Right, I forget that not everyone knows what’s going on with us. Have you ever heard of migrant workers? Well, we’re doing a similar thing. We get some young, fresh bodies to do migrant work. It pays great, and you get three square meals a day.”
I saw the owner of the bar, Ted, tapping his hands impatiently on the table he was sitting at. He established direct eye contact, and held it. His tapping got a little faster. “Hold on, sir, I think my employer wants to see me.”
“Hold on a minute, Quartz. This is a rare opportunity. I’ve seen plenty of youth pass up this chance, and they all ended up on drugs and alcohol. Every kid that I’ve taken in has thrived in an excellent working environment. You’ll have the chance to make your sister proud. Wouldn’t you like that?” Guy looked at me directly. I couldn’t tell if he truly believed what he was saying, or if he was just saying it to attract my attention. Either way, I found my myself enjoying the idea that was being pushed to me.
“What kind of work would I be doing with you, Guy?” I leaned forward onto the counter. “I might consider it, but only if I know what I’m doing.”
Guy laughed ever so slightly. “You won’t be working with me, sadly. I’m just a recruiter. However, you will be doing all sorts of things for all sorts of people. Believe me, it looks great on a college resume. Oh, look at me, I even forgot to mention the higher education opportunities.” Guy was drinking with more confidence now. He was really trying to sell me this job. Issue was, it was working.
I saw Ted lean forward in his seat, and give me an even harsher look. Was he trying to scare me out of this offer? I thought about talking to him, but I think Guy would end up trying to distract me from him again.
“Guy, my boss is getting pretty impatient. I can give an answer, but only after I see what he wants. Sound good?” I offered my hand to Guy. “Yeah, alright kid. Just make it quick, please.”
I stepped away from Guy, then out from behind the bar. I moved over to Ted. He motioned for me to sit. “I don’t know who that guy is, Quartz. He’s been here every night for the past five days. I don’t know what he wants, but I wouldn’t trust him. He’s been making some sort of “tantalising deal” to everyone who bothers to talk to him. It’s incredibly suspicious.” I nodded.
“I don’t trust him either, but this could be my chance to get out.”
Ted nodded. “Aye, lad. This could be a chance for you. But at the same time, the worm looks attractive on the hook.”
I had a lot to consider. Should I trust this stranger? This well dressed man who seemed to have everything in order? Or should I trust the bartender who has taken care of me the past four years? There was way too much to consider here, and only so much time.
I took a deep breath. “Ted, what do you think you would’ve done at my age?” Ted leaned back and shook his head. “What I would’ve done doesn’t matter. I wasn’t orphaned at birth. I didn’t have so little to lose. Honestly, if he would just say exactly what kind of work you’d be doing, I might have recommended you join him.
“He just dances around the questions, and quite skillfully at that. Most people who he had talked to previously were drunk, though. I hadn’t seen his real persuasion skills until just now. It makes me just a bit uneasy, knowing he was trained to sucker in depressed sods to do whatever he’s trying to get them to do.
“I would’ve denied him, but I also had a happy house and home to return to. You only have me and your sister’s brick. I love you, but I still know what’s best for you. It might not always going to be this bar. In the end the choice is yours.” He put his elbow on the table, with his hand extended above it. I clasped it, and he squoze my hand in a way that reminded me he cared.
“I think I need some time to think about it. This is a lot all at once.” I stood and pushed my chair in. “Either way, he’s still a customer, and I still need to serve him.” I marched back to the bar.
“Quartz, perfect timing. Could you mix me a different drink? Thanks.” I grabbed his glass, put it aside, then got him a new one. I mixed something new, and set the glass before him. “So what do you say, bud? You in?”
I kept direct eye contact with him. “You haven’t told me what exactly it is that I’ll be doing. You’ve just danced around the question.”
Guy sighed. “Yeah, I know. Honestly, I don’t know what work you’ll be doing exactly. I just know that you’ll work under a few different employers, and each of them is basically random. I’m just one way that you can get in. I know some facts about the guys who leave after they’ve finished their work, and that just about sums it up. Either way, you’ve gotta take the first step to get in.” Guy thrust his hand forward. He looked at me with a gleam in his eyes.
“I have to deny you, Guy. You’re not looking very trustworthy right now. This is all very tempting, but the worm often looks tempting on the hook.” Ted held back a laugh.
Guy just shrugged. “Suit yourself. There are plenty of fish in the sea.” He placed a wad of bills on the bar, then walked out.
“I’m proud of your choice, Quartz,” Ted began walking towards me, “You could have very easily walked into that strange unknown, but you chose to live only with the most secure choices. That’s important in a world like this.” I nodded at him.
“Tomorrow, Quartz, we’ll see what we can do about achieving your aspirations, eh? All else fails, this bar will still be yours one day.