Pay Dirt

It asked, Was she known to me—a quirk of its translator—and I said yes, but the question challenged another. Was I known to her?

The face I knew well. Of course. The wireframe projection on the screen flickered side to side. It was her face, geometrically, but it was missing the mole beside the nose. The mouth was closed, the face unaffected. The scans were always taken when the eyes were shut. Without the eyes, she’s nobody.

RACKETT Shoba, age 22

Twenty-two. Never knew that. That’s too bad. Younger than I was hoping. Funny how that works. Now I feel like a creep, I thought. I’ve been crushing on her since I got the job.

My whole life I’ve been told to keep away from the Racketts. But they surround you. They bring the wrong place wherever they go, and it’s alway the wrong time with them, that’s what my mother said. I really liked my mother. We were pretty close, which I know is not the standard. Few years back she died of some organ failure. The cogs only said they tried everything they could and I said no you didn’t, you could have put her in one of your cog bodies, and the chief surgeon cog shrugged and said, yeah, sorry, you’re right, but don’t dwell on that.

But mother wouldn’t have wanted that. She pitied the cogs, more than half robot, she said. I’d rather live only one year, she said, so long as I can press my toes down into sand and catch snow in my hair and feel my baby’s arms around my waist than spend eighty years trapped in a machine. Whatta they got that’s better than feeling the sun on your arms?, she’d say.

Money, ma. They got money. Loads of it. That’s what I’d say but only on the days I felt like bickering.

One of the Racketts managed the field I worked. Of course he did. Racketts had just about every field, route, and dump in the city. The dirty stuff, the stuff the cogs didn’t mind giving up to the knockoffs. He hired Shoba, his niece I think, or cousin, to administrate the office, which meant spending a lot of time sitting crosslegged on the desk drinking coffee and deflecting the suggestions of the older men from what I could see. A younger Rackett, Howie, worked in my gang for a year before they found better work for him. He teased me endlessly about his cousin, once he figured out I had a crush.

“You will guide our way to her,” it said.

“I can tell you where to find her, but I can’t take you there.”

“Explain,” it said.

“I’m just getting to work. If you march in there behind me, they’ll think I brought you. And the Racketts’ll blame me for whatever’s about to happen.”

“Penalty,” it said. “Forty-five dollars.”

“God damn it,” I said, but it was too late. They already scanned my barrel card—a quick green square of light flashed on my lapel and the charge appeared on the robot’s screen.

BARLEWIG Raymon, age 35

PENALTY — Civilian Dereliction: Minor — $45

The wireframe projection of my face flashed on the screen. Or, the projection of what I should look like at this age. Or another knockoff the same model as me they captured at 35. Let’s just say it was strange looking at a generated wireframe animation of your face that wasn’t exactly your own face. I didn’t own a mirror, but I combed my hair in the reflection of the subway’s black glass each morning, so I knew what I looked like, mostly. That face didn’t really look like mine, not to me. But the reflection in the mirror never looked like how I felt either. That version of me always looked tired and angry.

That was a sorely needed forty-five dollars. Every weekend I stocked up on beef and sausages. Jojo and I pooled our money at the butcher’s and afforded his hundred dollar deal. Hock, the butcher, would throw in a free jar of mustard or peppers or sauerkraut. But the deal was it had to be one hundred dollars every week. If we missed even one week, Hock said he’d rescind the offer. Hundred dollars for a week’s worth of meals was a good deal, and it was good, fresh meat Hock made himself. I was surrounded by boys working just as hard as I did carving the field and they complained constantly about being hungry. We only got paid 175 dollars a week, 50 of which went to Hock, 65 of which went to my landlady, which left another 60 for everything else; and there was always something else. This bastard squirm just left me with 15 dollars to get through the rest of the week. Luckily it was payday, otherwise I would have been insufficient and they charge an exorbitant interest rate.

“Well,” I said, “you can’t charge me twice for the same offense, so you’re on your own, squirm.” And I lifted my middle finger to the fish bowl and stared into the eyes of the octopus.

These noggins, the officer I was talking to, in case you’ve never seen one up close, they’re exactly like you’ve imagined them. Robotic frame with pneumatic limbs, covered in tiny camera lenses that look like mold spores, a digital screen in the chest that’s just low enough to be uncomfortable for a taller guy to try to read, and a fishbowl head housing a cephalopod. According to stories my father used to tell, the cephalopods are a new addition. The bosses used to just control the robots—so they wouldn’t have to risk patrolling the poor places—but there’s only so much you can do with cameras, a speaker, and a screen. The octopus reacts on what can only be described as an emotional frequency, and the robot body can transmit to the operator. It must be a nightmare for those squidly bastards, especially in the neighborhoods that have nothing better to do than throw rocks at the noggins.

Rumors varied on how much the squirms control the noggin body. Some say not at all, some say the bosses have devised a purely telepathic technology; that these days the squirms are brains controlling the robots separately from any operator. It’s hard to guess. The tech doesn’t pass down to us. Last breakthrough we got was the electric toothbrush, but really that’s just a tiny motor on a plastic stick. The screens in the chests of the noggins are infinitely more clear than the resolution of the best commercial monitor. I’ve been saving up for Lytebox, which is basically a television and a radio and an arcade machine all in a set the size of a waffle iron. The cool thing is Jojo showed me this circuit board you can plug into them to design your stuff, like music and programs and that sort of thing. Jojo’s built a circuit board that let’s him play and loop music through his Lytebox. It’s not soulful, but it’s soothing and sometimes he writes a piece you can really dance to. Lots of kids are really into this Lytebox music. I want one so I can design games. I was playing with Jojo’s a while back and started building this game where you basically just connect different colored nodes. The game prompts you with a random color and you have to combine let’s say blue and yellow to get green. But each time you use a node, it permanently changes its color. Anyway, that’s the idea. Jojo hates it ‘cause he’s colorblind and besides it’s way too complex, he says. People want easy games, he says.

Anyway, that’s not at all the point of this story. But you can see I’m saving up for something and this bastard squirm just set me back 45 dollars so I had to dig into my savings if I wanted to go out after work on Friday. And the longer it takes me to buy the Lytebox, the longer it’s going to be before I can program the game, and then the longer it will be before I can start selling cartridges of it, and the thing is I want to show the bosses my game so they’ll see I’ve got half a brain in my head and I can get re-registered in the labor directory to something better than carving up squares of mulch.

Yeah. Mulch fields. That’s where I’m at now. You can let mulch gestate naturally over the winter, or, if there’s a huge demand for mulch off-world, you can hire a gang of twenty kids to stomp around a shitfield in the blighted neighborhoods of Ikago with heat lamps and ammonia sprinklers and turn over a field of dead leaves into literal pay dirt in a month’s time. Then, once that mulch is all moist, you send those same twenty boys around with axes, picks, hoes, and shovels and carve out square foot cubes of mulch which you load on a palette, suspended by chains, controlled by the crane operator who’s making twice what you’re making doing a sit-down job, with hot coffee in one hand. Once half the field is carved out, your gang of twenty splits and half of you finish the carving and hauling while the other half of you are blowing shredded leaves into the empty lot—this is the worst job because those little flecks of shitty leaves get in your eyes and up your nostrils and under your gloves and down your shirt.

I’ve been at this long enough I got the tenure to always be on the carving squad. The new recruits think I’m crazy. It is significantly easier operating a leaf blower than carving, shoveling, and hefting wet dirt. But at what cost? Itching every night in bed? Hell no.

And the hefting gets significantly harder when the crane operator—your old mate Howie—lifts the palette up an inch every time you turn your back to heave another cube of mulch. He’ll keep his eyes on his Lytebox so when you glance over accusatorially he doesn’t even notice, and when you turn back to shovel the next load, he ever-so-slightly depresses the lever so the chains don’t even rattle. I’ve taken to bringing an extra pick and driving it handle deep into the mulch just next to the palette. Once the palette has been raised higher than the grip, I know for certain that Howie’s been screwing around and I can shout at him with impunity.


Back to the story.

When I get angry I do stupid things and that noggin just cost me 45 hard shit-shoveling dollars and I know they have cameras all over their body so I snuck behind a car and grabbed a hunk of concrete from a demolished building that never got cleaned up and chucked it at the noggin as hard as I could. Thank my stupid luck that I’m a terrible throw. The concrete burst in the street about ten feet on the other side of the noggin who was interrogating another boy from my gang also on his way to work. The sun hadn’t risen yet so there was no fear of me being seen. Just another ped in a blue jumpsuit and stocking hat on the burnt out streets of the West Loop.

I walked around back like I always do but instead of going down the gangway to the trailer where they serve chicory and raisin scones to the boys, I turned into the brick building. This was the back entrance into the office where the mulch gangs had no business going unless to sign paperwork or get sacked. “Whatta yoo want?” said Greeck Rackett, the manager of this mulch branch. His voice was somewhat like a dog’s bark and his eyes weren’t any different.

Shoba was sitting up front, pouring steaming water into a mug. I pointed at her.

“In about three minutes, a noggin’ll be in here looking for her.” I don’t know why I decided to talk about her in the third person. That was oddly impersonal and, having said it like that, I felt more than a little disrespectful. So I added, “Sorry, Shoba.” Which was suddenly worse, because I’d never spoken to her before, other than hellos and goodbyes on those rare occasions she’d come down to the field.

“Yeah?” he said. “How d’yoo know dat?” He had that obnoxious South Side accent. I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but really there’s just no reason to talk like that.

“They asked me if I knew where to find her.”

“And whadya say?”

“What I said cost me forty-five dollars.”

“Sounds like yoo said da right thing, bo.”

“Not if you like having forty-five dollars.”

“Whadya rather have? Money er yer integgerty?”

“At the moment I don’t have either,” but I pronounced it I-ther, not E-ther, unintentionally, but I recognized my own instinctive condescension.

Shoba held her mug to her chest, looking at her uncle. “What should I do?”

“I dunno, Shoba,” he said. “How bad is it, bo?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what she’s done. Sorry, Shoba. I don’t know why they’re after you.”

“They’re always after Racketts fer one thing er anudder.” His idiot accent was getting thicker the more he played tough.

Shoba shrugged and rolled her eyes around a little bit. I was certain she knew what they knew she’d done.

“Here,” I said, slipping out of my jacket. It was a heavy denim with a flannel lining. As soon as I took it off I remembered how warm it was. “Take this, and get out of here for a while.” I walked over and handed her my jacket. “If you need a place to lay low, I’m over on Ogden down there, number 753.” I held out my key.

“I have places to lay low,” she said, and she probably didn’t intend to say it with such derision, but I felt like a moron. So just to fire back, I said, “They probably know your places,” and I greased that with as much derision as I could. She looked at me like I was a jerk, but I’d rather be a jerk than a noodly whelp.

“All right. I’ll use your place. Does it smell better than you?”

“Of course not. I’m a mulch farmer.” My barrel card was still in the lapel of my coat that she was now wearing. “Hold on,” I said, and reached out. But my hand stopped an inch from her breast. “Better you do it.” She smirked and slid the card from the plastic sleeve and handed it to me. She walked over to her jacket hanging on a coat tree, slid the barrel card out of it, and I just presumed she was going to slide it into my jacket, but she put it in her wallet and took another barrel card out and slid it in the plastic sleeve on my jacket!

“You have a fake? That’s like a six hundred dollar fine!”

Greeck and Shoba both grimaced at me. “If I get caught,” she said. She started walking to the door and I said, “Take my cap as well. Pull you hair up into it. The thing’s right outside looking for you.”

“I know how to duck a squirm, pal,” she said. But she till took my hat and my idea. It was funny how pretty she was in the puffy denim coat and knit cap. Without her hair hanging down, you could really see the lines of her jaw and the delicate contours of her neck. She had a scowl on her face that was sabotaged by the little dark mole sitting just next to her nose. You wanted to reach up and brush it off with your thumb, just this little speck. Her face would be so plain without it.

“You’re welcome,” I said as she walked out the door.

“You must be hearing things,” she said.

When she was gone, Greeck said to me, “Whaddaya waitin’ fer? G’won back to work.”

“I’m not working without my jacket and hat. I’d freeze to death.”

“Well I ain’t paying ya to not work, bo.”

“Shoba’ll be gone for a few days till this blows over. If it blows over. I’ll work up here, covering her shift.”

“Oh, yeah? Will ya?”

“Levels out. I don’t have a jacket to work outside; you’re down one clerk inside.”

“Clever kid.”

“And, I’m out forty-five dollars. Which is a lot of money to me.”

“Lotta people’d pay twice that to do a Rackett a favor, bo. Think of it as a discount.”

“Screw a lot of people. And screw your discount. I did it ‘cause it was right, ‘cause Shoba’s a friend, and ‘cause screw the noggins. I’d do it again in a heartbeat but that doesn’t mean I want any truck with you people.”

“But ya wanna better job than shit-shoveling, don’tcha?”

“Damn right.”

“You can have Shoba’s gig till she’s clear ta come back. Whattaya making out there? Two-hunnert a week?”

I swallowed my first response, which would have been stupid, and just said. “Yeah.”

“All right. Make it two-fifteen a week until Shoba gets back and then back down to yer two-hunnert when ya go back to the field.”

“Can I have that in writing?”

“Heh,” he scoffed. “Yer the clerk today. Draw it up and I’ll sign it.”

I sat down at the typewriter and rolled in a clean triple sheet of letterhead and started typing hard—I was keeping that carbon copy. The noggin came through the front door and I knew the octopus recognized me. In the fluorescent lights it looked more like a cuttlefish. I can’t alway tell the difference. Greeck decided to play real nice with the thing. “Heya, howya dooon?”

The noggin repeated what it said to me. Is she known to you? Etc.

“Assa-lootly,” he said, “she’s my cousin. I been looking’ fer her. Worried sick. She all right?”

The noggin repeated only that it wanted to be taken to her.

“Why don’t you print out a flyer?” I said. “It’ll help us locate her. We don’t have any pictures of her to post up.” Greeck looked at me like I was some sort of a traitor. I ignored that. The noggin printed up a flyer from its chest and I took it. “Breaking and entering, theft of industrial material? What does that mean, she broke into some construction site and stole copper and steel?”

The noggin told me I was correct.

“You sure? Have you seen her? How the hell is she supposed to have carried any of that away? She’s a string bean.”

On the monitor embedded in its chest, the noggin played security camera footage of a couple of people hauling rebar and coils of wire from a site and loading them into a pick-up. As the pick-up drives away, the footage froze on a pretty clear image of Shoba behind the wheel. I glanced at Greeck who revealed nothing. “Could be her,” he said. “Hard ta say. Don’t sound like something my cousin would get into.”

“We got your number,” I said to the noggin, tapping the digits printed on the bottom of the flyer. “We see anything, we’ll buzz you.” And Greeck and I sat there in silence, staring at the octopus or cuttlefish or squid until the robot body turned around and walked out the front door.

I handed the flyer to Greeck. It had a fine printed out: $1,865. The sheet also supplied the itemized math that got to that number. A fine for breaking and entering, a fine for theft; both multiplied by the number of perpetrators. Plus the estimated cost of goods. I raised my eyebrows once I knew Greeck had scanned it, but he again revealed no expression. He crumbled it up and threw it in the garbage.

“Looks like you might be clerking for a while, kid.”

“That address, that’s one of your construction sites, right?”

Greeck shrugged. “Maybe.”

“You’re stealing from yourself and filing the insurance claim? If the bosses catch you, that’s thousands of dollars of fines, plus they’ll revoke your operating licenses.”

“Kid, if they caught us, it’d be execution. Bing, bing bing. Right down da line.”

“Those insurance guys are no joke.”

“Whattayoo care? I thought ya said ya don’t want nothing ta do with us Racketts.”

“I don’t. But I certainly want something to do with screwing over the bosses.”

“Well. Keep yer head down and yer chin up, kid.” He poured himself a mug of coffee. “Clerking’s a good place to be.”

Howie came in the back. “Hey, Greeck, there’s a noggin out there asking about Shoba.”

“She clear out?”

“I don’t know. Haven’t seen her. What’s he doing here? Hey, Ray. What’re you doing sitting a desk?”

“The kid did us a solid.”

“Oh yeah?,” said Howie and my stomach turned just as much as his grin. “Did Shoba give you a reward, Ray?” I couldn’t respond. My throat shrunk to a straw.

“What’s that mean?” asked Greeck.

“Ray’s got a crush on our little cousin.”

“Is that so?” said Greeck, glaring at me. Again, my throat was as dry and narrow as straw. “Is that what yer after?”

I shook my head and glared at Howie. Howie said, “Man, she’s like half your age.”

“How old are you?” said Greeck.

“Thirty-five,” I said.

“Thirty-five? You don’t look thirty-five. Shoba’s what? Twenty-two, twenty-three. That ain’t half thirty-five, Howie. Get outta here.”

“I’m just saying. Best day of Ray’s life he gets to do Shoba a favor.”

“She’s cute,” I managed to say.

“That she is, kid. She’s a piece. But she ain’t your piece.”

Now my stomach twisted again, in the other direction.

“She’s pretty,” I said. “Howie knows that I think she’s pretty. Howie’s an asshole. Shoba seems nice. I didn’t want her getting hauled off by a god damned noggin. That’s all. Screw you both.”

“Damn,” said Greeck. “You do like her. Yer voice is all differ’nt.”

Howie laughed out loud, stretching his throat like a bullfrog. “What a day you’re having,” he said and finally left.


I clerked all day, making it up as I went. Greeck was no help. He didn’t know anything about what Shoba did and I didn’t want him second-guessing my promotion, so I kept my mouth shut and used the carbons and receipts in the files to figure out how Shoba kept the books.

At lunch, sandwiches were delivered in a paper box by an older guy that was the exact same model as my mother’s father. He’d been dead for a while. It’s always weird when you see identical knockoffs—especially when you see your own model—but it’s especially strange when you see models of the people you know who’ve died. This old guy was older than grandpa by maybe ten years. And he let his face turn grey with stubble and cigar smoke. So it didn’t look exactly like him—and especially as we get older, we knockoffs really start to develop unique features—but it was strange to see this old guy and think, That’s what grandpa would have looked like if he lived a little longer.

It has its benefits, too. Like when you see a knockoff of your same model but their hair is different. You can say, Oh well that’s what I’d look like with a beard, or That’s what I’d look like as a blonde. There were rumors that the Racketts paid good money for all the knockoffs of all the models of their top people. So much, the rumor goes, that the bosses have stopped intubation on all of the models of knockoffs identical to Mizuro Rackett. At a time there were ten Mizuro Racketts and the bosses couldn’t keep them straight so they issued execution orders on all #117 models. My own model number is 22, which according to some people is extremely lucky and according to others is the exact opposite. You ask me, all that astrology stuff is phooey. If I had my way, I’d rather not know my model number. My name is good enough.

Anyway, this old guy, clearly a Rackett, was the same model as my grandpa. And it made me sick. My mother’s father was the sweetest guy in the world. One look at this guy and you knew he was a dog.

However, he brought lunch. And it was free. And it was delicious. A dozen hoagies cut in half. Greeck scooped up four halves in a napkin and put them on his desk next to his Lytebox. “Take some,” he said, so I grabbed two halves because that was plenty and he eyed me like a scoundrel. “Dammit, kid. Take at least four. I don’t want Match and Howie getting spoiled while Shoba’s away.”

“You’re telling me Shoba ate two full sandwiches every day for lunch?”

“She took the bread off. Any other questions?” I kept quiet. “Take the rest out to the trailer.”

When I got back, the older guy and Greeck were still chatting. I heard Shoba’s name and from what they were saying, the heat wasn’t going to be letting up any time soon. They were bandying about possible solutions. I wasn’t able to follow most of it because they used a slang beyond my familiarity. The older guy left without ever saying hello to me.

Greeck left at about fourteen hundred hours but said the clerk stayed on till eighteen hundred each night. I tried to look busy for a while but there wasn’t anything to do. I sat at Greeck’s desk playing with his Lytebox. It was an older model but I figured it’d be worth my time to get familiar with the circuitry anyway. I took it apart, put it back together, and it fired up again. So that was good. I messed with it until quitting time. I shoved the extra two sandwich halves that I didn’t eat at lunch into my pants pockets. I’d eat them for dinner and that’d make my fifteen dollars last a little longer. I realized I still didn’t have a coat or a hat and the sun had set. God damn it, I thought.

I ran all the way home just to stay warm and when I got there, Shoba was sitting on my bed reading a comic book. I didn’t expect her to be there at all!

“You don’t have a Lytebox?”

“Not yet. I’m saving up for a new one.”

“Ah. Well. I think I’ve read just about all the Tom Mix I can stand for the rest of my life,” she said, flinging a comic onto the floor. “I wanted to thank you for what you did today.” She stood up and started walking toward me, and though it seemed beyond crazy, I was certain she was about to make a move.

“No need,” I said. “Just give me my jacket back,” I said with a laugh, because I was still shivering.

She stopped walking toward me and cocked an eyebrow.

“God damn it,” I said. There was no mole beside her nose.

“Ha. That didn’t take long at all.” She continued her approach and put her hands on my shoulders. “Oh my god, you’re freezing.”

“Yeah. Shoba has my jacket.”

“The idiot didn’t mention that.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Margritte Collins. Shoba’s fall guy. And sometime… you know.”

“You’re a little older.”

“Screw you.”

“I just mean, most people would notice that.”

“The damned squirms never do, so what’s it matter?”

“So how does it work? You convince them it was you and not Shoba Rackett? And then what?”

“I work off the fine in a debtor’s camp, all the while the Rackett’s make sure my momma’s bills get paid.”

“Why don’t you just work off your mother’s bills?”

“The Racketts pay triple any other job I could find.”

“So why are you here?”

“Come on.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s a thank you.”

“You have no reason to thank me.”

“Get over yourself, man. They said you had a thing for Shoba and you weren’t half bad looking.”

“This is weird. I don’t like this.”

“Why is this weird? Pretend I’m her.”

“That would be even weirder.”

“All right, listen. We have the same body, right? And in fact, I take a little better care of it because my family isn’t rich. And you don’t really know her, right? You’re just attracted to her, right? I mean, have you talked to her? I have, on multiple occasions. That girl is a spoiled bitch.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“Wow.” She shook her head and took a step back. “Am I staying or am I going?”

“Why would you stay?” I said.

“I’d feel a little better about it.”

“About what?”

“About the arrangement.”

“What arrangement?”

“Listen, pal. I’m about to spend three months in a debtor’s camp. I wouldn’t mind one last night of mediocre love-making before being locked up with a bunch of cranky old broads.”

I laughed, but not happily. “You can go. I appreciate… whatever this is. But I’m not interested.”

“All right. I’m getting paid the same regardless.” She walked to the door. “You sure?”

“Have fun de-littering the highway, or whatever your winter plans are.”

“No reason to be a jerk about it, mulch farmer.”

“I’m a clerk now.”

“Yippee for you.”


In the morning, I pulled on two sweaters and a big scarf and luckily I had an extra stocking cap lying around. But, to stay warm I still jogged up to Kinzie. As I got to the intersection before the mulch yard, I heard my name blared in an synthetic staccato. The same noggin stood in the street not far from where I’d thrown the clump of concrete yesterday morning. It asked for my passframe—what they called the barrel cards—so I pulled it out of my pocket. My sweater didn’t have the plastic sleeve sewn into it. The green square of light flashed against it and I saw my name and face, or a version of my face at this age, appear on the monitor.

BARLEWIG Raymon, age 35

PENALTY — Aiding and abetting: Major — $285

PENALTY — Breaking and entering: Major — $460

PENALTY — Theft, Industrial: Minor — $195

REPLENISHMENT — Goods, Industrial — $1,345

REMIT — $2,285

INSUFFICIENT — $2,270

The noggin printed off all of this information onto a flyer and handed it to me. I stood in disbelief as it marched away.

I shouldered open the front door of the mulch office. Shoba—and it was definitely Shoba—was sitting at my clerk desk. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Wo, wo, wo, kid. Whodaya think ya are bursting in here like dat?” said Greeck.

I waved the flyer in the air. “Do you see this? I’m getting charged for all your shit! What happened to Margritte? What happened to your fall guy?”

Shoba scrunched up her nose at me and said, “Who’s Margritte? You sound like a maniac.”

“The girl, your knockoff, your fall guy! She’s supposed to pay for this so you can keep painting your nails and taking the bread off your sandwiches.”

“What is wrong with you?” she said.

“Well, if you gotta pay it off, dat means we don’t hafta,” said Greeck, and turned back to his Lytebox.

“How the hell am I gonna pay this off? I make two-fifteen a week.”

“Since when?” asked Shoba. “You make one seventy-five like all the other mulch boys.”

“I got promoted.”

“Yeah, I saw that. No. You filled in one day. We’ll cut you an extra twenty five dollars for the day, but that’s it.”

“How the hell am I gonna pay off twenty-three hundred dollars making one seventy-five?” I was panicking.

“Hey, were you messing with dis thing last night?” said Greeck, pounding on his Lytebox. “I had my cousin span the thing so I could get da extra channels and now it’s all back to the factory settings.”

I stared at Greeck, then I stared at Shoba, and then Howie came in the back door so I stared at him.

“Well shit, Ray. I heard you took the fall for me. I appreciate it, man. When you get out, I’ll get you a crane operator position at one of our other fields.”

I swallowed the mucus building up in my throat. “When I get out of what?”