By Stephen Thom
Light leaked through wooden slats nailed to the stone house windows. Sim sat behind a desk in the corner of the front room. Two men stood on either side of him. They wore long black coats, woollen hats, and were holding pistols.
The suited man sitting on the other side of the desk shifted and inhaled his cigarette. Generators hummed around them. Electric heaters whirred. Leaves blew across the floor.
The suited man knew Sim as the kingpin. He had some awareness of the chain of events and it scared him. He thought that probably a lot of what he'd heard was just stories. Stories growing legs.
Sim opened his mouth and picked at his gums. Webs of saliva were strung between his teeth. The suited man balanced his cigarette in the ashtray and rearranged the sheets of paper on the desk.
'There is a market,' he said, coughing. 'A decent amount of money. People do relatively well. Oil wealth, full employment. Users can afford it. It's the drug of choice for well-off young people.'
Sim clasped his hands together. His lanky frame was hunched over the desk. His voice was reedy, strangled.
'Whilst I appreciate your business acumen,' he whispered. 'These islands are already targeted.'
The suited man swallowed and uncrossed his legs. He reached for his glass. There were milky white stains around the rim. His lips curled and he downed the whisky inside.
'That's right,' he said, grimacing. 'I'm not denying that. Outfits from Glasgow, London and Liverpool are flooding them. I believe it's important to harness this, to establish a monopoly. Prioritise hotspots like Shetland. Your operation has the clout to handle this, to dictate - '
The front door burst open behind them. Sim twitched. The men flanking him looked up. Wind brushed dirt and twigs across the floor.
A skinny man lurched in, struggling under the weight of two holdall bags strapped across his shoulders, and a large, taped cardboard box in his hands. He edged up to the desk, planted the box down, removed the bags from his shoulders, and pulled the hood of his top down.
Sim tapped his long fingers on the desk. The suited man looked around, trying to gauge the situation. He slid his chair back to give them space.
'Dundee,' Sim said. 'Sutherland.'
The suited man watched his face. He looks like a child, he thought. He sounds like one.
The skinny man standing above him wobbled. He was having trouble breathing. His eyes were scored red.
'Sorted,' he wheezed. 'Jush a little bit - '
'Thomas,' Sim said. 'How much have you had to drink today?'
Thomas' eyes widened. He attempted to pull himself up straight. The suited man winced and chewed a thumb nail.
'Jush a few,' Thomas slurred. 'Jush gettin' back, was a long - '
'What else have you had?' Sim said, leaning forward.
Thomas blinked and smacked his gums. Snot ran from his nose. He raised a finger and knelt down, tugging the zippers on the holdalls open.
'Don't worry,' he breathed. 'It wasn't Sutherland this... time. He sended. He sent. He sended someone elsh. But he jush wanted half. But still half... '
Sim sat back and sighed. The two men flanking him eyed Thomas. The suited man reached for the bottle on the desk and refilled his manky glass. His head was burning. He wished he was anywhere else.
Thomas reached into a bag and heaved out a load of clear ziplock bags, dumping them on the floor. Each bag was full of pennies. He turned to the second holdall and unloaded another stack of ziplock bags, stuffed with coppers. Sim positioned his elbows on the desk and placed his head in his hands.
'Is almost the right amount,' Thomas sniffed. His pupils were tiny. 'Jush half, is all. But look, 'cos they were a bit short, they fuckin' - this! They... you'll like this... '
He rose, stumbled, and clasped the cardboard box, lifting it onto the desk. He was sweating profusely. The large men behind Sim stepped closer, but he dismissed them with a wave of his hand. The suited man lifted his chair and moved it back to the wall. He sat, crossed his legs, and drank, blinking nervously.
Thomas tore the tape from the lid of the box. Sim was watching him intently. The lid flapped open. A small padded paw emerged and a cat jumped out onto the desk. It paced around the wooden surface, nuzzling up to Sim. More pointed ears poked out of the box.
'Five catsh,' Thomas said proudly, swaying.
Sim lifted his head as another mangy ginger cat slipped out of the box, sniffing the air.
'Hatch,' he said, watching the cardboard receptacle. 'Isolation.'
The men behind the desk stepped round and seized Thomas, dragging him towards the back room. Thomas spat and struggled.
'They're good catsh!' He shouted.
Sim stood and lifted the box from the desk, placing it on the floor. The suited man watched him. In the soft light he looked extraordinarily tall. A cat knocked sheets of paper onto the ground and another jumped into Sim's lap as he sat back down. The suited man pulled his chair back up to the desk.
'My apologies,' Sim said, brushing the cat away. It leapt down to the floor and pawed at a twig. The suited man cleared his throat.
'As we were discussing,' he said, 'it's a rising tide. And you have the... clout... '
He trailed off. His eyes fell on a skinny tabby cat. He wondered what the hatch was.
Sim reached underneath the desk. He lifted a duffel bag up and pushed it over to the suited man, who shifted forward and unzipped it, reaching inside.
Wraps. He counted them out. Fifty wraps. Cats slinked around, sniffing at them.
'Free samples,' Sim breathed. 'To start. I want this one. I'll travel out myself, first. Lay the groundwork.'
The suited man stared back. He thought again of the stories. Weird stuff. Really weird stuff. He tried to push the thoughts away. The meeting would be over soon and he would be right fucking out of here. His fingers worried the edge of the desk.
'To establish a monopoly,' Sim said, 'you must lead by example.'
The suited man swallowed. Cats twisted round his ankles.
Sim stood and held his hand out. The suited man rose and grasped it. It was hot and clammy. He looked away from the moist eyes boring into him.