I went into a Credit Stop the other day. One thing about living off the grid, I don’t have ready access to bank accounts, things like that. I do a bit of work on the side, under some assumed identities. I get my cheques paid out in credit chips, (minus ten percent to the Credit Stop). Next door to the Stop was an off-licence, a small, dingy place with a single clerk sitting on a stool behind a cage.
I thought, why not treat myself to a six pack.
“Bloody rip off,” said the clerk as he rang up my order. “Ten percent of your earnings, just to flip some instant credit.”
I agreed. “Still, you got to wonder. I’ve been to plenty of Credit Stops, and there’s always an off-licence next door.”
It took about five minutes for the beer to synthesise. As I was waiting a vagrant came in, shivering in a wet, threadbare coat. Before he could emit a sound, the clerk pulled a home-made shotgun from beneath the counter and aimed it out of the gap in the cage wire.
“I wouldn’t mate,” he said to the vagrant.
“C’mon brother,” the vagrant had a high, nasal voice. “I’m so thirsty.”
The clerk racked the slide. “You were thirsty yesterday, and the day before. Yesterday you stole a bottle of sake from that nice lady. So like I said, I wouldn’t, if I was you.”
A chime went off, and my six pack rolled down the conveyor, not far from where the vagrant was standing. His eyes lit up, and he licked his lips savagely,
The clerk pushed the shotgun through the slit in the cage. “So help me God I will pull this trigger,” he said. “That beer belongs to the man here.”
Looking at that vagrant, I realised there wasn’t much different between him and me. I got lucky. I escaped with a bit of money, half an idea on how to live off the grid. This guy, who knows his story. Best I could say was a couple of things go a different way we could easily be in opposite places.
I got between the bum and the gun and said. “Let’s just be cool about this.” I took two bottles from the carton and offered one to the vagrant, who snatched it.
I held the other bottle out to the clerk. “Care to join us?”
The clerk eyed me warily. I stood my ground. He relaxed and the shotgun slipped back beneath the counter. “I would mate, but I’m on duty and all that.”
I cracked the top of my beer and said, “Half your luck.”
I toasted the vagrant, whose eyes rolled manically in his head.
He drank the beer.