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by Frank Duff

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559 Nathan Abbott Way


That evening Johnny was in his 8pm calculus tutorial when his cell phone began to vibrate in his pants. Surreptitiously leaving the room he checked the call display: 'number blocked'.

"Hello?" Johnny answered the phone as he leaned up against the wall outside the men's room.

"Johnny!" the voice at the other end called out excitedly against the too loud music in the background, "It's good to hear your voice man!"

"Who is this?" Johnny asked, his paranoid streak urging him to hang up immediately.

"I'm hurt Johnny. Really, I'm hurt. It's Ivan, you little son of a bitch! Oh such a sad thing that I should be forgotten so soon. Put your evil ways behind you have you? Livin' the straight life now? No time for your old ne'er-do-well friends?"

Johnny was surprised despite himself. "Ivan," Johnny said with real happiness in his voice, "I was just going to call you myself."

"From you Johnny, I'd almost believe it. Doesn't matter though, only one thing matters now: I'm at the Beagle and while I might be able to finish this pitcher by myself, I certainly can't manage the other one I just ordered without a little help."

"The Beagle?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah. Jeez kid, don't you live here? Get with the times. The Regal Beagle, Bloor and Huron. Should I expect you in five or do I have to make this here waitress drink with me? She's cute, you might like her... yeah love, you'll like him too. Scrappy little skater kid, little on the short side maybe but he--"

"Alright Ivan, for fuck's sake," Johnny cut him off, "I'm on my way!"


The jukebox was playing some hip-hop song Johnny had never heard when he arrived. He spotted Ivan right off. At six foot four he was easy to pick out of the crowd. It also didn't hurt that he had all three on duty waitresses at his table dancing and singing along to the chorus with him. Johnny leaned against the pay-phones and smiled as he watched his friend forge on solo into the second verse. By the time Ivan noticed Johnny the chorus had come back around again. He smiled widely, showing his perfect teeth, and waved. Johnny raised his eyebrows at his friend and started across the pub to his table.

"Johnny," Ivan bellowed enthusiastically, hugging him and slapping him too hard on the back with his tremendous Russian hands, "I want you to meet Megan and Wendy and that's Anna scampering back over behind the bar to get a drink for that customer. Such a responsible and friendly girl."

Johnny said hello to Megan and Wendy but didn't get a chance to say any more before Ivan asked them to let him speak privately with Johnny. Amazingly, he did so in such a way that it came off as though he were paying them the largest of compliments by asking them to leave. By the time Johnny pulled out a chair and sat in it Ivan had already poured him a pint.

"Happy birthday!" he shouted jovially.

"It's not my birthday," Johnny said, "I've never told you my birthday. I never tell anyone my birthday."

"I've noticed that Johnny. But now I have an arm up on everyone else who doesn't know your birthday. I know one day that it's not. Knowledge is power my friend, and power is money, girls, freedom and beer. And more knowledge, power is also more knowledge. Kinda like perpetual motion if you think about it."

"It's a leg up Ivan. You have a leg up on them not an arm up."

"That's what I said," Ivan agreed as he raised his glass, "a leg up. A toast: to tomorrow, your birthday."

Johnny smiled, clinked glasses and drank. After a long draw from the pint, he set it back down on the table and asked: "so who are you running from that you ended up here, Ivan?"

Ivan made a grand show of being offended: his eyebrows shot up and his jaw dropped to fantastic effect as he visibly drew back from the table.

"Running, Johnny? I never run. If you ever need to run you have waited far too long to make your exit. I always leave myself ample time to stroll away casually and even stop for a butt at the corner if I feel so inclined. Run!?" he said again with a huff, "I can't believe you think so poorly of me after all this time, Johnny! After all I've done for you!"

It looked like Johnny was going to be looking for a new connection if he wanted to get back into the acid business. It was a shame. Ivan was a real card and more than a little random, but he was a paragon of dependability when considered against his peers in the drug world.

"And what about-- My god what happened to your hand?" Ivan exclaimed.

Johnny looked down at his hand. Now that he looked at it, it was actually pretty gruesome. "A girl cut me."

Ivan laughed. "Still the ladies man, eh? So tell me what have you been doing in this city Johnny-Boy? Give me the real scoop, the dirt."

"I'm a student, Ivan. I'm getting my degree one slow expensive step at a time."

"Yes yes, of course you are. And then you're getting a wife and a mortgage and a steady job doing something perfectly legal and boring. Don't give me that party line kid. What are you doing for MONEY?"

"Well," Johnny said, preparing to talk shop and enjoy it, "I've been starting to get into gambling a little lately."

"That's my boy!" Ivan exclaimed slapping the table, "Gambling, eh? That's a tricky one. Hard to keep a clientele at a back alley establishment when the Man is setting up card houses with the official pat and nod on every other corner." Johnny made to interrupt but Ivan waved a hand at him and sat thinking for a moment before his eyes lit up. "Of course! You live in a residence! It's a captive market, and I bet they're all suckers too. What's the game? Craps? No, not enough skill involved, if you don't give them rope they can't hang themselves, right Johnny? I know, blackjack. It's blackjack, right?"

Johnny was shaking his head and smiling. "No, Ivan. Pro-Line."

"Pro-Line!?" Ivan was visibly appalled. "Pro-Line!? You're playing the fucking lottery? You're playing AGAINST the house? Haven't you read 'The Gambler'? Didn't Dostoyevsky say: Be the house or don't play the game?"

"Think about it Ivan," Johnny said, sipping from his beer, "What's the big difference between Pro-Line and the lotto? Or between Pro-Line and craps for that matter? The odds are fluid. The Pro-Line guys don't know what the actual chances are of the Sharks beating the Jets. There's too many factors: Maybe the goalie was out drinking too much the night before. Maybe one of the players is dating the referee's ex-wife. Who knows? All they can do is make an educated guess."

"You're trying to out-guess them on the statistics, man? That's a losing game. Those guys rake in a ton of cash for doing what they do. They have those jobs because they're the best at it. Besides, they always leave themselves a big margin for error. You're throwing your money away Johnny, throwing your money away."

"Yeah, but no matter how good a job the Pro-Line guys are doing, there are guys in Monaco, Antigua and Vegas who are doing it better. Pro-Line locks its odds twelve hours in advance. Then all you have to do is run a script that grabs the most up-to-date world-wide odds off the Internet and bet on the discrepancies."

Ivan was rapt. "Where do you get the script from?"

Johnny smiled. "I wrote it myself. Simplest thing in the world. Less than a hundred lines of code. It's running back in my room right now."

Ivan looked impressed. He reached across the table and tried to tousle Johnny's hair. Johnny leaned back expertly. Standing up and putting money down on the table, Ivan asked: "So this really works then? It's fool-proof? You're making money?"

"I'm making money, but slowly. Like you said, they leave themselves a pretty good margin so you can only really bet on the big anomalies and you're lucky if they turn up more than once or twice a week. And they limit bets to twenty bucks so it's not really scalable because you can't automate it and you have to run around to all these different convenience stores buying four or five tickets for each game. Not to mention that it's still a matter of playing the odds. I can skew the odds in my favour, but still; you win some, you lose some. You said it best: it's still the fucking lotto."

"That's pretty clever," Ivan said as he led Johnny out of the Beagle and over to a ludicrously large grey pick-up truck with farm plates, "but you're going about it all wrong--"

"This is your truck?" Johnny interrupted as Ivan pulled two parking tickets out from under the windshield wiper and tossed them in the gutter.

"Long-term loan from a friend who owed me a few more favours than he could easily return," Ivan said. "Get in."

Ivan turned the key in the ignition and the truck roared to life like an entire pack of angry diesel-powered wolves. He pulled out on to Bloor and continued talking as he drove: "Like I was saying, you've got a good idea here with this Pro-Line thing, but you've got the completely wrong attitude. You've got to cut the rope at its weakest link."

"Chain," Johnny corrected politely.

"Right. Like I said, you've go to cut the chain at the weakest link. You can't scale up when you're trying to fleece Pro-Line directly, but there's an even easier mark in the system. You've got to go right for Joe six-pack hockey fan. All you need to do is set your discrepancies up on a recorded 1-900 number which dumps its profits into an anonymous Swiss account, charge a buck a call, and get some good advertising out through the right channels. Bingo: reliable, scalable income. If there's one thing I learned in Russia, it's the value of reaching out to the common man."

"Bullshit," Johnny declared, "you've never been to Russia."

"Sure I have," Ivan said, looking offended, "my parents sent me there for a year when I was fifteen to straighten me out."

"Did it work?"

Ivan laughed. "Where do you think I met all my contacts?"

Ivan had stopped the truck. They were pulled off to the side of Wellesley Road.

"You see what I'm saying though Johnny? You have to find the weak point and go for it. You've got the eye. You see the opportunities but you haven't learnt to consider all the factors yet." He opened his door and got out. "All right, it's your turn to drive."

"I don't have a license," Johnny objected.

"And I'm drunk," Ivan said, "besides, if we get pulled over, that's the least of our worries."

Reluctantly Johnny slid over into the driver's seat and took control of the beast. He hadn't driven in three years and then it had been his father's little Mazda. As he released the clutch and pressed down on the gas, the response was downright intimidating. Once he got the truck started though, Johnny quickly grew comfortable with its power. He had never been a big fan of driving, but there was something about controlling this much machine that stirred up a feeling of car fetishism in Johnny that he hadn't known existed.

Ivan was silent as they drove. Johnny glanced over and noticed that he had pulled a very large bag of weed out of his bag and was rolling a joint. Right, don't get pulled over. Ivan lit the joint and opened the window. After a moment he tried to pass it to Johnny. The ember was burning bright in the wind.

Johnny shook his head. "You know I don't smoke."

Ivan withdrew his hand. In his peripheral vision Johnny could see him take a pull from the joint and shrug. "Solzhenitsyn famously said, 'There's a first time for everything'," Ivan said, "but suit yourself."

Be that as it may, the first time had actually been some time ago. Johnny had sampled most types of narcotics at one point or another in his misspent youth and he hadn't passed over marijuana while he was doing the rounds. It wasn't that he had anything against pot, or any other organic drug, per se. It just turned out that God wasn't as good at making drugs as chemists were.

Shortly after finishing the joint, Ivan tapped Johnny on the shoulder and pointed across the road to a Coffee Time. Johnny pulled the truck into the parking lot and cut the ignition. The three hundred and fifty horses under the hood began to cool down and throw off steam. As he got out of the truck, Johnny noticed for the first time something rather largish in the bed of the truck underneath a waterproof tarp. He said nothing and followed Ivan into the coffee shop.

After they had ordered their coffees and found a seat Johnny made a quick look around to make sure no-one was near enough to easily overhear their conversation before saying, "I really was going to call you, Ivan"

"Yeah buddy, don't worry about it. We'll be seeing each other a lot now I think, no? I'm not worried about it. Don't you be."

"That's not it. I need a connection."

Ivan smiled a knowing smile, "What kind of connection?"


Ivan knotted his brow a little before answering "for personal?"

"No, to move."

"Jesus fuck man, don't you read the news?"

Johnny didn't; he cocked his head and waited for Ivan to go on.

"Three major acid factories were shut down in Canada in as many months. The feds hit the Vancouver shop in July, Montreal in August and then last month they raided a production house in Regina I didn't even know existed. Same thing's happening in the States right now. And for some reason they're working their way down."

"Working their way down?" Johnny asked incredulously.

"Yeah man, I know. I don't know why they suddenly care about the little fish but word has it they're working their way through the entire list of clients and going after every single one. Everyone who's not already locked up has taken to the ground. I can get you acid if you want it, but it'll be coming via the Netherlands and it'll cost you twenty bucks a hit. Wholesale."

"For fuck's sake man! And you didn't think I'd want to know this a month ago?"

"You would have known it three months ago if you had stopped to take a fucking look at the world around you. Besides, you're in the safety zone. They can't get at you until they have me and you can rest assured that I am doing abso-fucking-lutely everything in my power to keep myself out of their hands. Take a look at this."

Ivan slid a passport across the table. Johnny picked it up and opened it.

"Ivan Milanov? Peters wasn't Russian enough for you?"

"There's no crime in being proud of your ancestry, Johnny. Eastern Europeans have a noble history. Besides I would have been Ivan Petrov if my father hadn't been scared of persecution during the Cold War. But I wanted to know what you thought of the manufacture, not the content."

"It seems ridiculously good. I'm not a border guard, but I sure as hell couldn't tell it's a fake."

"Yeah that's what I thought. You should have seen the guy who made it for me. He was a fucking amateur with access to good equipment. Colour laser printers man. Gone are the days when it took a printing press, a dark room and years of experience to open a forging shop. Those things only cost like eight grand, absolute top of the line. The only catch is that they document the fuck out of anyone who buys one."

"Why not just steal one then?" Johnny joked.

Ivan smiled, "Johnny, you're a fucking genius. That's exactly what I'm talking about."

"So you're going to go into the forgery business then?"

"Fuck no; that's a fools vocation. Remember what I said about finding the weakest link, Johnny? The sweetest spot? Why would you settle for printing and selling a commodity like passports when you're equipped to just straight-up print money. Cut out the fucking middle-man."

"You're crazy Ivan. You can't just print money on a laser printer, man. The mint prints it on some crazy cotton paper that they make themselves and don't let anyone else use. Anything else just doesn't feel like money."

Ivan smiled, "have you ever accidentally washed an American one dollar bill with bleach?"

Johnny looked confused for a second before Ivan continued, "It's a rhetorical question. Wrong kind of bleach anyway."

He reached into his pocket, the same one the passport had come from, and drew out a piece of paper which he handed to Johnny. Johnny rubbed it between his fingers and held it up to the coffee shop's flickering fluorescent light. It was the same shape and weight as an American bill. It felt just like money and had all the little coloured fibers but it was completely blank.

"It started its life as a lowly 1973 one-dollar bill. With a little help from me, it might one day better its station by a factor of a hundred."

"Counterfeiting doesn't exactly sound like keeping a low profile to me, Ivan."

"It would be a bad move for Ivan Peters the known narcotics trafficker, true. But Ivan Milanov hasn't committed any crimes yet but theft, and no-one knows that but me and you."

The puzzle pieces clattered noisily into place in Johnny's head. "That's a colour laser printer under the tarp in the back of that truck, isn't it?"

Ivan smiled.

"You robbed a fucking Future Shop didn't you?"

"Hey," Ivan said, frowning for half a second, "keep your voice down."

"Whatever you say, just don't land ME in prison." Johnny played with his empty coffee cup for a minute. "So there's no-one supplying acid locally?"

"Not that I know of, but whoever breaks radio silence first stands to make a lot of money; captive market and all."

Half an hour later, Ivan was dropping Johnny off in front of his residence building.

"Thanks man. Stay out of trouble," Johnny said as he got out of the truck.

"I will, and think about that Pro-Line thing. We could be partners."

"Sure thing."

As Johnny was walking away, Ivan called out to him. "Hey Johnny, I'll be in touch. I don't know shit about computers and I'm gonna need some help getting this thing set up."

Johnny turned back and laughed, "I charge thirty bucks an hour."

Ivan smiled, gave Johnny the finger and peeled off. When Johnny got to his room he noticed that a red Mandelbrot set had been painted on his door while he was out. He had never understood why people bothered rendering fractals in print or paint. The second you locked them into a static medium they ceased to be interesting. He touched the paint and looked at his finger. Still wet.

In his room he pulled the half sheet of acid out from where he kept it hidden between pages 102 and 103 of Crime and Punishment. As Raskolnikov noted that the blood was gushing from Alyonya's head as from an overturned glass, Johnny considered that it might be a very long time before he could get his hands on any more LSD. He tore ten hits off of the sheet and shoved it into his wallet for personal use. He tore off another five and tucked it into his psychology textbook. The remaining thirty-five he placed carefully back into Crime and Punishment, once again interrupting Raskolnikov's panicked dash into Alyonya's bedroom.

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